Zero To Eighty

by "Akkad Pseudoman" a.k.a. Edwin Fitch Northrup

1937, Scientific Publishing Company (Princeton University Press)

Copyright expired, public domain. PDF available for $2 from Lulu

Many of us thought that Gerard K. O'Neill and Henry Kolm built the first coil gun "Mass Driver" in 1974. E.F. Northrup was building large coil guns in the 1930s. The book "Zero to Eighty" contains photographs of them.

E.F. Northrup's Coil Gun

Edwin Fitch Northrup

E.F. Northrup photo

"Zero to Eighty" is strange. In the introduction, Dr. Northrup says a fictional treatment will be more popular than a scientific/engineering work, so the first 85% of the book is an "autobiography" of Dr. Akkad Pseudoman, who builds a 200km long "electric gun" up the side of Mt. Popocatapetl and fires a two stage rocket, with himself and his partner Dr. Bizet, into a circumnavigation orbit of the moon. There are defects in the analysis, but overall the work is quite clever, and clearly establishes Dr. Northrup as the inventor of the electric induction coil gun space launcher. Northrup explains innovations that could benefit modern gun launchers.

Dr. E.F. Northrup had a PhD in Physics. He was co-founder of the instrumentation company "Leeds and Northrup". After L&N, Northrup was a professor at Princeton for 10 years, where he invented the high frequency magnetic induction furnace. He took his invention with him to found the Ajax Electrothermic division of Ajax Steel. The division survives today as Ajax Tocco Magnethermic. Dr. Northrup produced 6 patents for L&N, 35 for Ajax, and at least half a dozen others.

The magnetic induction furnace is an obvious precursor to a coilgun - Dr. Northrup probably accidentally launched many conductive payloads out of induction heating coils. In the 30s, the patent trail for Ajax stops. Although I have no firm dates, he apparently spent most of the 30s with a small band of machinists and technicians building coilguns like the one shown above - quite a bit larger than the Kolm/O'Neill mass drivers.

In the book, Northrup indicates plans to patent much of what he wrote about. Since no such patents ever issued, we may presume his work was interrupted. His book was published in 1937 - Northrup died in 1940. It is interesting to speculate about the possible course of space launch history if Northrup had continued his work, and if the V-2 rocket and subsequent ICBM development had not taken the world in darker and more expensive directions.

A few used copies of "Zero To Eighty" may be found through online used book services, or at a handful of university libraries. This link connects to the fictional text, but the pictures, drawings, and math are not available. The copyright was not renewed - the book is in the public domain .

Northrup is also the author of:

These are also in the public domain, and in print worldwide.


John W. Hunter and his colleagues at Quicklaunch are planning a hydrogen gas gun as the high-G first stage of a system to deliver rocket fuel to a depot in a 500km orbit. It is interesting to speculate how this could be combined with some aspects of a coilgun; not for thrust, but perhaps as a steering mechanism, and perhaps using an axial magnetic field to reduce the radial thermal conductivity of the hydrogen. A more dynamic axial magnetic field (probably too expensive to produce) might act as an MHD motor, providing additional axial velocity to the hydrogen. The steel liner of the Quicklaunch gun might be replaced with high temperature ceramics, making them more temperature tolerant and permeable to magnetic fields, though such a liner would probably be too brittle.

ZeroToEighty (last edited 2012-09-07 22:16:59 by KeithLofstrom)