191. All Aboard The British Rail Space Express!

04 Nov

In 1970, Charles Osmond Frederick was drafted in by British Rail to design a lifting platform. Mr Frederick took on the challenge but after some revisions and a few edits it seemed he had gone rather off track. In December 1970 British Rail filed a patent application for the affectionately named ‘space vehicle‘. The official British Rail Flying Saucer.

Instead of a lifting platform the result of the design work was a large interplanetary passenger spacecraft designed for the pan-planet traveller. It was a truly preposterous proposition and in March 1973, the patent was granted.

The design named nuclear fusion as the source of lift and thrust. To start the engines one or more high-powered pulse laser beams are required the material. The pulses of nuclear energy generated would occur 1000 times a second to prevent any chance of resonance which might damage the vessel. To provide extra comfort for those traversing the notoriously low gravity of space, the acceleration of the ship could simulate that wholesome gravity feeling, a weight off the minds of those unaccustomed to zero-g travel. As an added comfort the patent even goes to the trouble of including a thick layer of metal above the fusion reactor to shield passengers from the deadly levels of radiation.

The energy produced by nuclear fusion would then be channelled through a nozzle into an array of electrodes on the crafts underside. They would convert the energy into electrical energy which could then pass into some strong, hopefully superconducting electromagnets. The core idea was that these magnets would accelerate the subatomic particles from the fusion reactor, flinging them in one direction, propelling the ship skywards. The service, of course, would be operated at a most reasonable price by the reasonable people at British Rail.

Unfortunately British Rail seemed to have lost track of time and did not pay the patent renewal fees. In 1976 they lost the valuable patent.

In 2006 the patent resurfaced and received an amount of publicity in Britain. As a result several nuclear scientists made space in their diaries and pored over the details. Michel Van Baal of the European Space Agency noted that the patent was expensive, inefficient and had the added problem of relying on technologies that do not, as of yet, exist. Chief among them being efficient nuclear fusion, which is possible but currently only at the rather toasty temperatures achieved in the core of our sun.

Unworkable and barely serious, the patent has seen much ridicule but it perhaps belongs more to the realm of fiction, at least until the design stops being so impossible. The idea though is much more feasible, eventually something similar such as a Space Elevator will pull out of a station, and take us up beyond Earth and behind us we shall see the blue marble, first vestige of humanity. Whether or not it will be operated by British Rail is of little concern, what at least is guaranteed is that the journey shall be, literally, out of this world.

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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Articles


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