Can people living in the Medieval age put anything into orbit? if this question is too difficult then what about setting altitude records with man-made object in the stratosphere?

  • $\begingroup$ Depends on your definition of medieval $\endgroup$ – Jimmy360 Jun 16 '15 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Jimmy360 I think at no point of the period we called the MiddleAges/Medieval age would we have been able to put something in orbit. $\endgroup$ – Amziraro Jun 16 '15 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ Is Medieval age just an indicator of time, or does it include any civilizations that are around at the time, in which case there are more possibilities to explore or contemplate with this question. $\endgroup$ – Michael Lai Jun 16 '15 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael Lai this includes any pieces of technology created or could be made by the 15th century civilizations. Note that hot air balloon didn't float until 17-something. Given abundance of resources and materials with some innovation and imagination are they capable of achieving such feat? $\endgroup$ – user6760 Jun 16 '15 at 23:53

It's hard to get to orbit because you have to go so fast. What-If Orbit

What we call an 'orbit' is a fancy word for falling without hitting the Earth. Basically you fly horizontal to the Earth so blisteringly fast that you fall around the Earth. This is about 8km/s for Earth (in Low Earth Orbit), that's 28800km/h or about 17400miles/h.

Building a hot air balloon is technically possible for a Medieval person, but even if the balloon could take you to space (it can't) you won't get into orbit with Medieval technology.

If you want altitude, a hot air balloon is your best bet. If your medieval types are a bit more advanced they can build a hydrogen airship, which would be flammable. Or you can try a gunpowder rocket, but I think it unlikely that a Medieval person could build one large enough to lift someone safely.

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    $\begingroup$ It's amazing how often XKCD has an answer to the questions around here. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 16 '15 at 2:46
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's more that, on Worldbuilders (and StackExchange in general) so many people read XKCD that one of them will eventually find a relevant comic to post/page to link to. $\endgroup$ – Amziraro Jun 16 '15 at 2:58
  • $\begingroup$ XKCD covered gunpowder rockets too. The ISP is too low, so you start needing exponentially more rockets as you try to go faster and faster. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 16 '15 at 4:19
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Do you mean the model rocket one? $\endgroup$ – Amziraro Jun 16 '15 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Amziraro That's the one I'm thinking of! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 16 '15 at 4:39

Jerry Pournelle wrote a novel "King David's Spaceship" about a lower tech world scratching together a spaceship launch in order to get better terms when added to a space Empire as a 'space faring nation'. This was a case of tech lost due to wars rather than true medieval, but it has similar aspects you can learn from.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, but Orion doesn't work with black powder. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 16 '15 at 18:00

I don't think you could do it in the Medieval Age, but all the resources I've read seem to say that Jules Verne's idea actually has some merit for putting things into orbit. Just don't try to send people, as the g-forces would be a bit too much. By "a bit too much", I mean "something like 22,000 g".

The basic premise is a giant cast iron cannon buried in the ground (300 meters long or so), charged with literally hundreds of tons of propellant. Verne proposes using nitrocellulose rather than "gunpowder" (I believe this would be smokeless powder, which is more powerful than black powder if I recall correctly). I don't know how far these chemicals are beyond medieval technology, but I'm sure black powder would at least impart a lot of thrust, even if it's not enough for orbit.

Could a medieval society dig a 300 meter deep hole? Could they build a 300 meter cast iron tube? Do they have enough iron? Could they make hundreds of tons of explosive? I don't know these things, but it could at least seem plausible in a fictional story.

No suit of armor is going to work for the 22,000 gees though.


If your civilization knows gunpowder, they can create a solid fuel busters powerfull enough to accelerate something to enter orbit. But your civilization needs a good knowledge of Mathematics, Mechanics and Chemistry to achieve this. At least at Kerbal Space Program you can send spaceship to orbit using only solid fuel boosters.

UPD: for staging you can use visco fuse

visco fuse

UPD2: For control you can use slave powered wings, gyroscopes, slave powered nozzles that emmit byproducts of combustion of powder to aim the ship

UPD3: you can create some spacesuits for crew, there was a leather scuba suits with external air supply - there was a leather scuba suits with external air supply

medieval diving suit

But, i think this expedition was a one way, because on medieval level of technology it is near impossible to create heat resistant materials to survive atmospheric re-entry (unless the Mithril is existent on planet of your civilization :-) ).

  • $\begingroup$ Doing this you still need some way of staging your rocket. You cannot send a single solid rocket booster in to orbit. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Jun 16 '15 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ Gunpowder = solid fuel boosters? Puhleeeze. The same SSRB article you link shows booster fuel specific energy of 31 MJ/kg. Gunpowder has 3. Then there's the technology needed to produce metallic aluminum, which requires large amounts of electricity. And the chemical industry to provide enormous quantities of ammonium perchlorate (have you ever dealt with large quantities of anhydrous ammonia?). And the metallurgy to produce the booster walls of uniform-thickness, flaw-free, high-strength steel. Oh, and let's not forget the swiveling nozzles, which cannot be moved by human power. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 16 '15 at 14:38

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