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"Science fiction and science have always danced around each other. Science fiction is the subconscious of science."
- Greg Bear

Mass-Driver Catapult  
  An escape-speed induction catapult to launch material into orbit.  

Tired of paying high prices at the Authority catapult for goods shipped back to Earth, the hard-working Loonies decide to build one for themselves.

Operation could not be secret. You can't buy or build a hydrogen-fusion power plant for such and not have it noticed. (Sunpower was rejected for obvious reasons.)... Can't build a stator for a kilometers-long induction field without having it noticed, either. But most important you cannot do major construction hiring many people and not have it show. Sure, catapults are mostly vacuum; stator rings aren't even close together at ejection end. But Authority's 3-g catapult was almost one hundred kilometers long. It was not only an astrogation landmark, on every Luna-jump chart, but was so big it could be photographed or seen by eye from Terra with not-large telescope. It showed up beautifully on a radar screen.

We were building a shorter catapult, a 10-g job, but even that was thirty kilometers long, too big to hide... We hid it in literal sense, too; this catapult had to be underground, so that it would not show to eye or radar. But had to be hidden in more subtle sense; selenographic location had to be secret.

Location of that catapult is still most closely guarded secret in Luna. Can't be seen from space, by eye or radar. Is underground save for ejection and that is a big black shapeless hole like ten thousand others and high up an uninviting mountain with no place for a jump rocket to put down.

From The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by GP Putnam in 1966
Additional resources -

It turns out that hurling multi-ton cargo containers down to Earth has an alternative use during conflicts.

Prototype mass-drivers were first constructed in 1976. Mass Driver 1 was an early prototype mass driver. It consisted of a series of coils through which a small bucket would travel, pushed by the magnetic field of each coil as it was energized. It was created by Gerard K. O'Neill, Henry Kolm, and a variety of students at MIT. It was able to achieve accelerations of around 30Gs.

Compare to the earliest reference to the idea, the electric gun from Munro's 1897 novel A Trip to Venus.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
  Tech news articles related to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Heinlein

Mass-Driver Catapult-related news articles:
  - Launch Ring Magnetic Launch System By LaunchPoint
  - NASA Asks For Moon To Earth Delivery Ideas

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