This Company Flings Satellites Into Space Using Giant, Spinning Machine

5 mins read

SpinLaunch’s launcher is bigger than the Statue Of Liberty and functions like the Olympic Hammer-Throw Event. It was just launched in New Mexico.

New Mexico may be the place where satellite launches are heading. A startup has just demonstrated a system that allows objects to be flung into space rather than being launched into orbit by rockets.

The dare

We load satellites onto a rocket that carries a lot of propellants. The rocket then creates thrust. This allows the rocket’s gravity to be released and, once it is high enough, it can let go of its payload.

This process has become much more affordable thanks to the development of reusable rockets. Previously, we had to pay for an entire rocket. However, fuel is very expensive and can release a lot of greenhouse gasses when burned.

Satellite launches 2.0

SpinLaunch, a California-based startup that specializes in spaceflight, is trying a new approach to satellite launches. This involves spinning the satellites really fast and then letting them go at the right moment.

It’s a bit like the Olympic hammer throw event but with satellites in place of metal balls. Even SpinLaunch CEO Jonathan Yaney admits that it sounds strange. This is why the startup has been largely hidden from the public eye for seven years.

However, the project doesn’t seem so crazy right now.

First journey

Yaney reports that SpinLaunch used a vacuum-sealed “suborbital accelerator”, taller than the Statue of Liberty, to spin a 10-foot-long projectile using a rotating arm. It reached speeds of “many thousands of mph” on October 22, 2021.

He said that the projectile flew at an altitude of “tens and thousands of feet” after being released from the accelerator’s barrel.

SpinLaunch will conduct 30 more tests in the New Mexico suborbital accelerator over the next eight months before building an orbital accelerator larger enough to launch satellites.

Broadening the scope

SpinLaunch anticipates that its orbital system can deliver approximately 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of payload per launch, which is the equivalent of two small satellites. The projectile will then coast for approximately one minute before breaking open. The payload will be guided into orbit by a booster attached to it.

Each payload will only be a fraction of the rocket launches that carry it — SpaceX’s Falcon 9 can transport over 50,000 pounds (22.800 kg) to low Earth orbit.

SpinLaunch claims that its approach is 10 times more cost-effective and will use 4x less fuel than the current method of putting payloads this size into orbit. It produces no emissions in the most important layers of the atmosphere.

The system is also very affordable, so they can launch many launches. This makes up for the lack of payload size. It is currently looking for an orbital accelerator site that can handle “dozens of launches per hour” and expects to launch its first customers in 2024.

Look forward to the future

SpinLaunch could reduce the cost of small satellites being placed in space. This could have a huge ripple effect — microgravity allows scientists to do experiments that are not possible on Earth. It also gives them the opportunity to access it cheaply, which could result in breakthroughs in tech and manufacturing.

SpinLaunch isn’t the only company looking for innovative ways to reduce the cost of going to space. U.K. startup B2space has developed a balloon that can carry rockets into outer space.

This, like SpinLaunch’s system, would reduce both the cost and emissions in the lower layers, suggesting that satellite launches may be more affordable and cleaner.

[h/t]: FreeThink/BigThink

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