If John Hunter - a former physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory - is successful, the International Space Station may start receiving their supplies from a cannon. No, it's no joke.
First postulated by Jules Verne in his novel From the Earth to the Moon, the idea of space cannons is not new. Many engineers have toyed with the concept, but nobody has came up with an actual project that may work. Hunter's idea is simple: Build a cannon near the equator, submerged in the ocean, hooked to a floating rig. At the cannon's bottom there is a combustion chamber, which uses natural gas to heat hydrogen up to 1427C, increasing the pressure 500 per cent. When released, the gas will launch a capsule with half a ton of material into space, at a swooshing 21,000km/h.
The project itself would only cost $US500 million, which is a really stupid amount considering the potential benefits: A system like this will cut launch costs from $US5000 per pound to only $US250 per pound. It won't launch people into space because of the excessive acceleration, but those guys at the ISS can use it to order pizza and real ice cream. [Popsci]