Once you have perchloric acid, you’re most of the way to Ammonium perchlorate, the major ingredient in most solid fuel rockets, such as the space shuttle boosters.
Chemistry wise, Count Von Stadion’s grandson could have built himself an orbit reaching rocket in 1880.
No need to make the cabin airtight; you’re putting an item in space, not a person.
One problem: your hypothetical “item” would probably have to be the rocket itself, since you’d have no way to control it and therefore leave your object in space once it was launched. I suppose you could rig a mechanism to eject something after a set amount of time, but it wouldn’t be reliable; no way to test it under the actual stresses involved, etc.
ETA: Are we limited just to 19th-century manufacturing technology, or to 19th-century science? By definition, it wasn’t possible to launch anything into orbit in the 19th century because nobody did- but with a modern understanding of ballistics, escape velocities, and so on, things might be different.
Indeed. One of the basic tenets of Steampunk is that the Brits actually continued to fund Babbage, or someone like him, and the growth of analytical engines (originally from the 1820’s) and their descendants lead to an information-age like society during the Victorian era.
There are other tropes (airships, “robots” and brass goggles, for example) but the primary idea is of plunking down modern computing power in a pre-electical society. Sort of.
I want to take it a step further, and assume some crackpot decides that space is the place to be.
The USS New Jersey had an analog mechanical computer to target shell fire.
I used analog computers based on resistance and capacitance to calculate process control in graduate school. Benjamin Franklin had capacitance, Leyden Jars in the 18th century. The only problem is using cards to replace turning dials.
An old Pournelle novel, “King David’s Spaceship”, describes a planetary government desperately trying to develop space travel with Victorian-age technology. (They’re about to be colonized by a spacefaring empire and will be admitted under better terms if they demonstrate capacity for space travel. Hey, I didn’t say it was a good book…) Pournelle’s SF tends to be pretty hard, technology-wise.
They end up with a gunpowder-powered Orion-type craft - I would love to have seen Pournelle’s design notes on that - which may or may not be viable IRL.
It may perhaps be tiresome to point out that steam is not an energy source, though it can be a useful energy storage medium.
Could you store enough energy in the form of steam - or, better, superheated water which can be turned to steam - to accelerate a rocket to orbital velocities? Doubtful. A big problem would be the size and weight of the necessary pressure vessels.
Actually, not a chance. The amount of energy density necessary precludes the use of stored pressure powered vessels. The energy per unit mass stored in the compressed steam alone–provided you could surround it with a perfectly adiabatic layer to prevent it from radiating away thermal energy–would be insufficient to propel even itself to orbit (~30 MJ/kg of final payload mass at ~6 km/s orbital speed), and this assumes that you can compress air indefinitely; as a practical matter, at a certain amount of compression the temperature will be so high that it will compromise the structure of any practical material. The use of energy dense, highly volatile fuels and oxidizers like kerosene and liquid oxygen, or UDMH and red fuming nitric acid, is necessary to make orbital velocities. In addition, you would need to have a rocket system capable of staging (to reduce dead mass) which means complicated sequencing and ordnance systems, a materials capable of handling the pressures and temperatures involved in orbital ascent, and most difficult for pre-20th century technology, control systems compact yet sophisticated enough to fly the rocket to a specified orbit.
A solid propellant motor in the 19th century, as Squink suggests, is right out. One might be able to make ammonium perchlorate, but being able to mix it in a binder consistently enough to provide energetic propulsion without exploding is actually very tricky, as is setting it off in a reliable, controlled manner to begin with. Then you have to make a case to contain the motor; a riveted structure–the only option prior to the invention of electrical arc welding (available in the late 1800s, but only in very limited applications and without the kind of standards and quality control necessary to ensure consistent penetration)–is not viable, and there were no fiber wound composites.
Given the difficulties of taking the steam with you, could you have a ground-based launch facility using steam-power?
Jules Verne basically used a big cannon to fire a habitable shell into space but is it remotely possible that steam could somehow replace explosives as the propelling power?