Medieval space flight? The company ejects missiles

Why use unstable rocket fuels for small satellite launches when you can just eject them into space?

It may sound like a crazy proposition, but a California-based startup, SpinLaunch, is actually developing an alternative rocket launch technology that spins a vacuum-sealed centrifuge several times faster than the speed of sound before releasing the payload, launching it like a catapult. up into orbit.

According to a report from CNBC, SpinLaunch conducted its first test flight using its prototype electric launch system last month, October 22, at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The alternative launch system will have the “lowest cost in the industry”

Rocket launches are incredibly expensive and also bad for the environment, as one launch generates several hundred tons of CO2, uses thousands of gallons of water and can also emit harmful nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere – although it is worth noting that the space industry carbon fingerprint pales in comparison with that of passenger aircraft.

SpinLaunch not only aims to provide a significantly more sustainable launch system, but also aims to provide satellite launch services “at the lowest cost in the industry,” said SpinLaunch CEO Jonathan Yani. CNBC.

Conceptual image of the finalized SpinLaunch startup system. Source: SpinLaunch

With its launch system called the Suborbital Accelerator, SpinLaunch has developed a system that does not rely on rocket fuel and instead uses electricity, kinetic energy and a centrifugal mechanism that looks like a postmodern twist of a medieval invention.

The machine consists of a 1000-ton steel vacuum chamber that maintains the low pressure required to rotate carbon fibers at incredibly high speeds while minimizing aerothermal heating. Air is sucked out of the chamber before launch to provide a low-friction medium that allows the projectile to reach speeds of thousands of miles per hour before being fired from a tube facing the sky.

“Bold and crazy” space project

SpinLaunch was founded in 2014 and until recently remained largely under the radar. In his interview with CNBC, Yani explained that “the bolder and crazier the project, the better it is to just work on it – instead of talking about it.”

The company has raised $ 110 million to date and has built a third large-scale version of its launch system, which it uses for its recent successful test flight. Even on a third of the scale, it is worth noting that it still reaches a height of 165 feet (50 meters), which means that the final model will be approximately the same height as the Eiffel Tower.

Medieval space flight?  A company is ejecting missiles to cut costs
The prototype of the SpinLaunch suborbital accelerator during construction. Source: SpinLaunch

For the system, SpinLaunch develops incredibly precise release mechanisms, as well as projectiles that reach speeds of thousands of miles per hour after being ejected into the air. The company says its test flight in October took place at approximately 20 percent of the full power of the system’s prototype. Although he did not release exact figures, the projectile, which is a satellite payload, is said to have reached a height of “tens of thousands of feet.”

SpinLaunch aims to rebuild its systems after launch and ultimately wants to add rocket engines that will only be used once the projectiles have reached suborbital space. The private space company says it will eventually be able to send about 440 pounds (200 kg) of payload into orbit for a fraction of the cost of other satellite launching services, such as services operated by SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and other space companies. Over the next eight months, SpinLaunch will conduct about 30 suborbital test flights from Spaceport America. Stay tuned for more updates on this project, which is so crazy it might just work.

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