On takeoff, the engines didn't use any fuel. The compressors sucked in
air and the thermajets heated it to over 3000K. The decrepit old cargo
ship roared to life, spewing superheated air on the crumbling pad. The ship rose
straight into the sky, then turned eastward, breaking the sound barrier at 5000
The thermajets weren't good enough to get to orbit; they only worked when the atmosphere was thick enough to make enough thrust to keep the spherical ship rising, yet still thin enough to keep the vessel from melting or breaking apart. At some thirty-five kilometers above the surface, the air pressure had dropped to around ten millibars and the plasma jets kicked to life, spewing out argon plasma at 20,000 kps to gain the last third of the velocity needed to reach a low orbit.
Half a loop around the earth, the plasma drives cut in again, this time with five times the plasma velocity but only a fifth of the overall thrust. It was a slow fuel-efficient burn, but one that would put them in line to reach geosynchronous after an eight hour flight. Far above, the moon shone invitingly, but it would have to wait for another flight.
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by Geir Lanesskog, All Rights Reserved