The Kickstarter Space Cannon


As far as space travel and Kickstarter is concerned, we’ve seen crowdfunding projects for satellites in low earth orbit, impacting the moon, and even a project for a suborbital rocket. This one, though, takes the cake.  It’s a gun designed to send very small payloads into space on a suborbital trajectory.

The gun itself is an 8-inch bore, 45-foot long monster of an artillery piece. While the simplest way of shooting something down the length of a barrel would be exploding something in the breech, [Richard] is doing something a little more interesting. He’s broken down the propellent charges so instead of one giant propelling a bullet down a barrel, the projectile is constantly accelerated with a number of smaller charges.

The goal of the Kickstarter is to send a small payload into a suborbital trajectory. Later developments will include putting a small rocket motor in the dart-shaped bullet to insert the payload into an orbit.

This isn’t the first time anyone has attempted to build a gun capable of shooting something into space. The US and Canada DOD built a gun that shot a 180 kg projectile to 180 km altitude. The lead engineer of this project, [Gerald Bull] then went on to work with [Saddam Hussein] to design a supergun that could launch satellites into orbit or shells into downtown Tel Aviv or Tehran. [Bull] was then assassinated by either the US, Israeli, Iranian, British, or Iraqi governments before the gun could be completed.

Two videos from the Kickstarter are below, with a few more details on the project’s webpage

51 thoughts on “The Kickstarter Space Cannon

    1. You can fire something into space though, just not into orbit. Even without friction, any launch with only a force exerted at ground level will return to the ground, or fly away into space. But it will never stay in orbit. (See )

      I agree with you that they probably don’t know this as they wrote: “We are shooting for orbit and if you share our passion for low cost access to space please help us out. :)”, which is impossible.

      They should play some ksp to figure out the basics of orbital dynamics :)

      1. Definitely a gigantic hole in their plan. When the military tried this they found that the power it took to get a projectile to the level where it would begin an orbital insertion turn and burn pretty much always destroyed the rocket motor on the projectile.

        The military had a 16″ gun, mountains of failures, and millions of dollars. The barrel’s walls were around 2 to 3 inches thick and it still required maintenance and section replacements due to the pressure necessary to get the projectiles to near-space. His barrel appears to be a standard store bought stand pipe.

        I’m hoping he has xray equipment and intends to scrutinize his setup after every test shot. Playing around with high explosives and generic metals not intended for the purpose at hand is an insanely dangerous idea. Every shot is likely putting micro-fractures throughout the barrel.

        He’s not convincing me he has the scientific wherewithal to accomplish this task even if funded. His spelling and grammar are flat out terrible and he shows zero math. The project’s website needs a ton of work – at the moment it looks like it was made by a child 15 years ago – not by a professional looking to convince strangers to give him $65,000. The “come watch it go BOOM!” rewards really make this seem like someone that just wanted to make a big cannon, not someone that understands orbital insertion or the hurdles faced on the previous attempts to do exactly what he’s attempting.

        I’d personally donate if he had details to back up his idea – solid math on the forces expected and where he came up with every figure in his estimations. I’d also really like to see some acknowledgement from him that this is not a new idea – that it has already been done and done successfully. Acting as though he’s a pioneer here worries me as it indicates, at least to me, that he’s done no research and has no idea that there have literally been hundreds of projectiles launched from previous space guns (none of which achieved actual orbit). A freedom of information act request could likely get him mountains of paperwork and experiment data from Project HARP (not to be confused with HAARP – space gun, not antennae array).

        PS – KSP rocks!

  1. While I believe it MAY be possible to put an object into orbit by launching it from a system similar to “Starfire”, I also believe anything other than solid materials will disintegrate upon launch. I certainly have no hope for sensitive electronics of any kind surviving the launch. Good luck to the dreamers, but I won’t be investing in the idea.

    1. While there is some subtlety to it, physics math using Newton’s penetration approximation says that not even a solid steel object launched at ANY SPEED can get into space proper.

      Solid steel, assuming it doesn’t disintegrate, will consume all it’s launch energy getting through the atmosphere. A column of atmosphere has about as much matter as steel. Essentially trying to put an object in space with only force exerted on the ground is like launching the projectile at a chunk of steel of equivalent dimension.

      If you want to have a gun launch something into space you need something that can penetrate it’s own dimension in steel and retain speed of several thousand kilometers per hour. If not, the best you can do is get it to the edge of the atmosphere before it looses all kinetic energy.

      Depleted uranium or super-rare iridium might do it. A rocket booster would definitely be able to do it. However just putting more energy into something and expecting it to get through the atmosphere is a failure to do physics calculations.

      1. You’re incorrect.

        This sort of gun has already been used to get to > 100km which is past the vast majority of the atmosphere. The difficulty isn’t atmospheric drag but the enormous amount of energy needed to get to orbital velocity.

        Also, designing electronics able to survive these sorts of accelerations has been possible for decades. The US army designed the Copperhead anti-tank artillery round back in the ’80s which had an IR detector and fin control servos that could survive > 10,000 G’s of acceleration.

        Ultimately, what this guy is suggesting is entirely possible but doesn’t give much of a meaningful benefit over existing launch methods.

  2. Does he not realize that, even though he made one hell of a weapon to protect himself with, anything he launches with it will be subjective to such an intensive acceleration that anything biological will be turned into goo and anything less dense than 1/4 inch thick steel will get bent beyond usability? I mean, it would be great at the pumpkin chuckers contest if it didn’t instantly pie the pumpkins but it’s great for home protection from a military assault.

  3. Hello guys!
    Is such a device so unrealistic? What about the research program conducted by the US on this approach?
    If explosive propulsion is impractical due to bursts of G forces causing havoc in the potential electronics of a small satelite, what about a giant coil gun? I’ve heard that it is beeing studied for space launch, and that the US navy have fired a 10Km per second projectile with a magnetic acceleration cannon (of course in this context, not for an usefull payload).
    Would it be possible to see a coilgun providing enough acceleration to reach low orbit?
    (and i mean possible in such a setup, not for the NASA, ESA, or other space agencies with billions for budget)

    Speaking of space makes me feel the urge to play kerbal space program again :)

    1. I’ve seen the idea advanced of using a linear mass accelerator (what you kids today call coil, or rail guns) on the equator for launching payloads into space in old science fiction stories. So your idea is not exactly a new one.

      1. I was not pretending that i had invented an idea…
        I probably read the same books as you did, and i mentioned the coilgun of the US navy.
        So the question was : how realistic/unrealistic is this idea?

        I have seen some comments on the acceleration required for a cannon to get a payload into space, but what about railguns? with a coilgun/railgun, you can control the acceleration more precisely, and perhaps keep it at acceptable levels…

        I wonder how feasable is such a concept, how useful it might be.

        The space elevator has also been mentioned in many science fiction books, but that fact doesn’t prevent us from discussing it, and it doesn’t mean that mankind won’t do it someday…

        I am not here to give credits to this guy, i just like the idea, and wonder if it is feasible or not, if it is worth it or not, etc.

        What about the aeodynamic friction at such high speed in the low atmosphere?
        I’ve seen or read that nasa is considering magnetic shield to repel a plasma cloud around a ship traveling at hypersonic speed. What if we could ionize the air around the projectile, to create a near vacum bubble around it?

  4. even if this things does get off the ground (no pun intended) and does become viable, I can see it getting busy up there – even more so then it is!

    surely its gonna get to a point where the ISS is will have to sweep Rpi’s and arduinos off its solar panels!

  5. Suboribtal usually means 100km. There is some math that’s pretty simple. If you accellerate something in X meters at Y G you get the same speed as with cX meters and Y/c G.

    In this case, decelerating from initial speed to 0 in 100km at 1G means we have to get an acelleration of 100km/15m G = 6666G during the launching phase.

    The math all checks out: You launch at 66660 m/s^2 in 21 miliseconds over a length of 15 meters. The speed ends up being 66660*.021 = 1400 m/s. And this 1400m/s drops down to zero in 141 seconds over a distance of 100km…..

    Anyway, I’m not sure what “payload” will survive 6666 G….

    1. Have a look at “variable time” (actually is proximity) fuses for artillery and other large-bore stuff, a tiny radar that survives the launch only to blow itself up near the target…while not 6666G, it definitely touches 4-digit numbers and while at it, it has to deal with torque and the tens-of-thousands of RPM…

  6. not to burst anyone’s bubbles but i think this maybe considered as a firearm or weapon

    the last item

    No bath, beauty, and cosmetic products; electronic surveillance equipment; eyewear (sunglasses, prescription glasses, and others); firearms, weapons, knives, weapon accessories, and replicas of weapons; medical, health, safety, and personal care products; or infomercial-type products

    you may want to check with the kickstarter staff because it may be a violation

    1. A circle accelerator would be more economic. – Much less pipe than in a spiral.

      pledged of $250,000 goal”

      But the sling idea is interesting. Perhaps another use-case for nanotubes.

  7. “Why did I build this? Cheap access to space” Of course nothing to do with owning a huge cannon that can launch stuff into orbit. I’m a bit concerned about what’s on the other end of the ‘glider’ (ie after it comes down from low earth orbit…).

    45 foot long…. think he’s over compensating a bit?

  8. This has “Astronaut Farmer” written all over it – minus the Hollywood physics defying special effects and feel good ending.

    The guy makes some wild claims about the staged propellent, yet his website has nary a single calculation to back ANY of his claims up.

    If it’s not a scam – PUT UP THE MATH.

    1. Meh, I’m going under the assumption that HaD readers are smart enough to see that this would never work unless millions of dollars was thrown at this guy. I mean, the HARP projectiles were pretty advanced – they even carried compressed air in them with a nozzle at the rear to reduce the aerodynamic ‘suck’ behind the shell. This kickstarter’s shells are just bullets with fins in a sabot.

      Oh.If it was ever completed, he would probably “commit suicide” via multiple gunshot wounds to the head. So he’s also got that angle working against him.

      That being said, it’s a freakin’ huge gun – which is awesome – and the “delayed charges in the breech” is kinda interesting. Just relax, don’t get your panties in a twist, and enjoy an insane Kickstarter.

      1. Well at least the HARP’s creator wasn’t secretly suicided – he was flat out assassinated. It’s still up in the air as to whether it was Iran, Israel, the US, the UK, Chile, Iraqi, or South Africa that did it though. Each government had their own reasons to not want Bull working with Hussein.

    1. Or at worst a letter from a staff legal department needing to justify to justify their existence. Appears there are 28 trademarks granted for “starfire”, most likely all of them are limited in scope. For example I can’t create a product like the Deere product and name it starfire, but I may be able to call another product or device starfire.

  9. Maybe in 200 years, this might be a realistic project, in case they have managed to colonize moon until then. (If humanity realizes that religious wars (there is no god!!!) are senseless and set new, more important priorities)

    The acceleration of an earth bound gun will probably smash nearly all sensitive equipment. If the projectile survived this, the heating caused by atmospheric drag will likely evaporate it before reaching outer space, unless the cannon is placed at really high altitude, like on top of Mt Everest. So not a good idea.

    If the same thing is build on moon, where no oceans cause any disruption and no air drag melts any projectiles, one could build a linear, magnetic or electrostatic accelerator, where the projectile is suspended by superconducting electromagnetic rails, like the german Transrapid. Since magnetic bearings are frictionless, the projectile can slowly be accelerated by electric power, which is easily supplied by solar cells.

    I did a quick calculation, in which I set 100g as the limit of vertical centrifugal acceleration, and I got a result of 41 km/s, faster than any current spacecraft. Since humans can survive 100g, if suspended in a neutral buoyancy water tank with an oxygen mask and the linear accelerator can be build rather large, if enough money exists, this method would be ideal to transfer large payloads in earth escalloping trajectories. Furthermore the linear accelerator makes rocket more fuel efficient by Oberth’s law. Maybe one day this principle can be used to launch large interstellar (manned) probes to nearby stars, like probes with nuclear reactors and ion drives or a fission powered project Orion inspired spacecraft.

    1. Ugh, do some research.

      While the space gun isn’t that great of an idea, it’s entirely possible with decades old tech. I’m very dubious that this guy can do anything meaningful with the money he’s asking for though. The US military did a bunch of studies back in the 80s and 90s on this topic and concluded that you’d need to build a light gas gun to get orbital velocity – using explosives to heat and compress helium or hydrogen which propels the projectile. They had a gun which was capable of lobbing projectiles above 100km. However, the full-scale device was estimated to be in the neighborhood of $20B so it was dropped.

      We’ve had electronics and flight control surfaces dating back to the early 80s that can withstand 10,000+ Gs. (look up the Copperhead anti tank artillery round)

      As for atmospheric heating, the lower atomspheric heating is significant but well within our existing heat shielding ability.

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