Planetary science demands increasingly elaborate experiments, with the result that mission objectives are often limited by space access capability. The orbital skyhook is a momentum transfer device that has been proposed as an alternate launch system. It is an extended orbital structure that rotates to allow access by a low speed suborbital vehicle. After docking, the vehicle gains momentum from the skyhook and is accelerated to orbital velocity, after which the skyhook energy must be replenished. The construction of an orbital skyhook is shown to be feasible with current materials. It is a fully reusable launch system with very high propellant efficiency and could provide the launch capability needed for future planetary science missions.
Part of the book: Planetology