Author Topic: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?  (Read 34863 times)

Offline RobLynn

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #40 on: 12/22/2014 03:08 PM »
I've been working for some periods at more than 5,000 m (with long periods of acclimatization at 3000) and I ensure you it is really demanding for an healthy westerner, specially if you have to spend the night there. Also, remember you wouldn't be selecting personnel among mountaineers or natives but among extremely good engineers and technician coming from any region of the US, etc.

So, "without too many problem" is really overstating, trust me... Not mentioning 7,000. At that altitude the risk of emphysema is large. O2 bottles and oxygen enriched environments still help but as soon as you work outdoor your brain becomes quite unreliable. I can't really see such a highly demanding business to be operated there.

(Note that was 7000 people living in a town at 5100m, not people living at 7000m).

I've spent several days above 5000m, and climbed to 5600m, and like the 10's of thousands of other westerners who have been to Everest I did not find it that difficult (even though I'm a big tall unfit guy with abnormally small lungs).  Not everyone acclimatised in the time they had available, but most managed.  I also saw oxygen available on the trains that go from China to Lhasa over a 5100m pass, but I didn't see anyone bother with it.  Seeing Crows flying around was amazing.

It may not be sensible to set up a whole complex launch facility at >4500m, unless the workers used supplementary oxygen some or all of the time (which wouldn't be much different from carrying a toolbelt or wearing other safety gear), and not life threatening if you ran out - just more tiring.   But with a well established technological facility you could have oxygen enriched buildings and hyperbaric facilities for gradual acclimatisation even for short term visitors.

It is not hard to find locals in any of these high-altitude locales who can work happily at >5000m (there have been mines at 5350m), as can many westerners given time.  But moving a LV 1-2000m up a mountainside to be launched after it is prepared for launch might be easier.
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Offline pagheca

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #41 on: 12/22/2014 03:18 PM »
Look, Roblynn: congratulations for climbing so high (I'm honest, I like it too!).

I do not want to start an endless race to who got the longest one... :). So, if you think that, fine. However, "without too many problems" is IMHO stretching a bit the reality. Specially when you need to convey there thousands of highly qualified workers and you have no room for errors. And we can have fun with this (and other) "totally crazy" ideas, until we do not want to demonstrate they are serious.

The observatory I was working with, ALMA, until a few months ago, forbidden to sleep in the facility overnight. We had one of the most powerful supercomputer of the world there, and it was ok to stay there during the day. However, we got a quite high number of fatalities due to people accidents during construction because of stupid behaviours due to high-altitude sickness. We had to establish very hard rules for workers, including stiff driving rules. And still, 99% of the high-tech work was done (on purpose) at 3000.
« Last Edit: 12/22/2014 03:24 PM by pagheca »

Offline Prober

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #42 on: 12/22/2014 03:30 PM »
OK, first of all, I know this is totally crazy and politically impossible (and the technical challenges would be daunting as well), but what level of performance improvement could be expected from current launch vehicles if they were launched from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa?

IIRC, that was actually proposed by some SF writer (Clarke?) back in the 1950s.

Mount Kilimanjaro is almost on the equator (3 degrees South) and is 19'341 ft (5'895 m) high. Being a volcano, it also has a rather gentle slope which could make the construction of roads and tracks up to the summit possible, as well as a large caldera (several in fact) which could be paved for the launch platforms. And it is inactive.

What performance improvement would a Falcon 9, for example, have if launched from such a launch site, nearly 20'000 ft up?

1/2 good idea....not a launch site.  A space elevator build site  :D

a whole different game.

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Offline RanulfC

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #43 on: 12/22/2014 08:40 PM »
If we use a mountain anyway, why not build an electromagnetic mass driver into the slope? The volcano will provide geothermal power. :-)

*stabs EM mass driver on mountain slope in the heart*

*checks for movement*

*stabs it once more just to be sure*

Now stay dead!  ;)

No, no you got the order wrong... It's "put the EM mass driver in the HEART of the mountain..." and an array of lasers around the rim... Sorry TMP flashback :)

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Offline RobLynn

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #44 on: 12/23/2014 07:57 AM »
The observatory I was working with, ALMA, until a few months ago, forbidden to sleep in the facility overnight. We had one of the most powerful supercomputer of the world there, and it was ok to stay there during the day. However, we got a quite high number of fatalities due to people accidents during construction because of stupid behaviours due to high-altitude sickness. We had to establish very hard rules for workers, including stiff driving rules. And still, 99% of the high-tech work was done (on purpose) at 3000.

How much of the death/accident rate would be down to cultural differences?  There is a huge difference between the West and the rest of the world.  I have spent several years working in China and am frequently amazed at just how careless the workers are about safety - and not because they need to be (eg won't use safety equip provided), but because their culture doesn't put any emphasis on safety, as evidenced by the suicidally aggressive/stupid manner in which they drive.

Do you know if the astronomy community looked into supplying workers with oxygen through a nasal canula?  A 2-5L 200 bar tank or a 1L LOX dewar should be enough for 8hours work.  Small enough to not be particularly annoying or inconvenient.
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Offline Tass

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #45 on: 12/23/2014 10:02 AM »
The observatory I was working with, ALMA, until a few months ago, forbidden to sleep in the facility overnight. We had one of the most powerful supercomputer of the world there, and it was ok to stay there during the day. However, we got a quite high number of fatalities due to people accidents during construction because of stupid behaviours due to high-altitude sickness. We had to establish very hard rules for workers, including stiff driving rules. And still, 99% of the high-tech work was done (on purpose) at 3000.


Offline pagheca

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #46 on: 12/25/2014 09:47 PM »
RobLynn: Everyone going up to the site must bring O2 bottles with him. However, people usually don't use them as it's very dry and therefore quite annoying in the nostril for long time. I, for one, used it only once while doing a survey on rough terrain at ~ 5,600 m (in winter).

Thanks for the cartoon, Tass. However, LACK and EXCESS of O2 have completely different effects... Xkcd quite wrong on this account :)
« Last Edit: 12/26/2014 10:26 AM by pagheca »

Offline cordwainer

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #47 on: 12/28/2014 03:40 AM »
Building a site on Mauna Kea and Haleakala would make more sense that Kilimanjaro for Space Launch. Stable American government, possible joint interest with Canada and Asia's space programs and it would create jobs for the locals. Of course getting stuff there would be a  B!?%#.

Offline Stormbringer

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #48 on: 12/28/2014 08:53 AM »
The local indigenous population probably would not allow something like that. They barely let the telescopes be built on their sacred mountains.
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Offline pagheca

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #49 on: 12/28/2014 09:31 AM »
The local indigenous population probably would not allow something like that. They barely let the telescopes be built on their sacred mountains.

Right, but this apply to ANY high mountain on Earth, specially isolated ones, and I'm sure Kilimanjaro is sacred to some local indigenous population too (not checked over the internet...).

However, we are talking about a "crazy" idea, and so we should not get too confident and realistic about them...
« Last Edit: 12/28/2014 09:33 AM by pagheca »

Offline llanitedave

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #50 on: 12/28/2014 03:45 PM »
Right.  The idea that it's "crazy" is what makes it fun to play with.  There's no danger of it actually happening, so you can easily explore potential implications in any direction you like.
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Offline Hop_David

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #51 on: 12/28/2014 11:54 PM »
If we use a mountain anyway, why not build an electromagnetic mass driver into the slope? The volcano will provide geothermal power. :-)

That was one of my daydreams, a west to east maglev rail up Chimborazo. I attempted to do some numbers:



Even at Chimborazo's altitude of 6 km/s, the atmosphere is still fairly dense. I believe .5 km/s may be somewhat higher than practical.

The equator's moving about .47 km/s. So .36 km/s with regard to earth's surface is .83 km/s.  I believe density at 18 km altitude is about about 1/10 that of sea level. Besides lower density, it's about 1/5 of the way towards the altitude where the air is rarefied enough to achieve orbital velocity.

I don't think that's enough to enable a SSTO. It might be helpful for a reusable booster that would land downrange from Chimborazo, somewhere in South America.

A booster starting it's burn at 18 km altitude and a horizontal velocity of .83 km/s has  some advantage over a regular booster. Is it worth building a major power plant and a maglev through ~100 kilometers of difficult terrain? Probably not.
« Last Edit: 12/28/2014 11:59 PM by Hop_David »

Offline Vultur

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #52 on: 12/29/2014 02:25 AM »
Why the limitation to 0.5 km/s? Erosion of the rails like the Navy railgun project has run into?


Offline Hop_David

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #53 on: 12/29/2014 01:39 PM »
Why the limitation to 0.5 km/s?

It's not good to travel at high speeds through a thick atmosphere. It causes excessive heating and drag. This is why rockets typically do a vertical ascent before they turn sideways for the major horizontal burn to achieve orbital speed.

Concorde would go mach 2 (about .68 km/s) at 18 km altitude. Even at this altitude it'd get pretty hot. At 6 km mountaintops, air density would be roughly triple that of 18 km altitude.
« Last Edit: 12/29/2014 02:14 PM by Hop_David »

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #54 on: 12/29/2014 03:19 PM »
Thanks for the cartoon, Tass. However, LACK and EXCESS of O2 have completely different effects... Xkcd quite wrong on this account :)

What exactly do you think Xkcd got wrong?  Xkcd seems to depict euphoric behavior, which is absolutely correct for hypoxia.

Offline Vultur

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #55 on: 12/29/2014 05:35 PM »
Why the limitation to 0.5 km/s?

It's not good to travel at high speeds through a thick atmosphere. It causes excessive heating and drag. This is why rockets typically do a vertical ascent before they turn sideways for the major horizontal burn to achieve orbital speed.

Concorde would go mach 2 (about .68 km/s) at 18 km altitude. Even at this altitude it'd get pretty hot. At 6 km mountaintops, air density would be roughly triple that of 18 km altitude.

Concorde didn't have a heat shield though, did it? Couldn't you carry a heat shield that was jettisoned once it got into thin atmosphere?

Offline indaco1

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #56 on: 12/30/2014 06:49 AM »
It's not good to travel at high speeds through a thick atmosphere. It causes excessive heating and drag. This is why rockets typically do a vertical ascent before they turn sideways for the major horizontal burn to achieve orbital speed.

I think it's also to minimize gravity losses.
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Offline R7

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #57 on: 12/30/2014 11:18 AM »
A booster starting it's burn at 18 km altitude and a horizontal velocity of .83 km/s has  some advantage over a regular booster.

There's also disadvantage; it has to start with very large AoA while surviving ~8 kPa dynamic pressure or have wings.
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Offline JasonAW3

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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #58 on: 12/30/2014 02:11 PM »
Too bad we can't build an angled launch platform, effectively zero out the mass of a launch payload and launcher, let Earth's centripedial force fling the pacage upwards and gradually bring the effective mass back to normal to achievel orbit either around Earth or towards another planet.  Maybe the Alcubierre drive could achieve this from ground level?  Be kind of interesting to see what happens if it were activated in a gravity well anyway...
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Re: Totally crazy idea: Space launch site on Mt Kilimanjaro?
« Reply #59 on: 12/30/2014 03:07 PM »
A booster starting it's burn at 18 km altitude and a horizontal velocity of .83 km/s has  some advantage over a regular booster.

There's also disadvantage; it has to start with very large AoA while surviving ~8 kPa dynamic pressure or have wings.

Is that technically correct? I'm thinking that if the engines were positioned of struts at the nose or as far back as the center of mass and pointed where they needed to be pointed, the rest of the vehicle could just hang at whatever angle minimized those dynamic pressures.
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