NASA begins testing incredible SpinLaunch centrifuge launch system

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A few months ago, we unveiled an unusual new satellite launch system developed by startup SpinLaunch: a system based on a massive electric centrifuge capable of accelerating to hypersonic speeds (up to 8,000 km/h) before designing a launch device. launch into orbit. The huge advantage of this approach is that it eliminates the launch vehicles used by most space companies today. Several industry players are interested in this concept, including NASA, which has signed up to test this incredible technology.

One of SpinLaunch’s motives is ecology: ” As the industry plans to launch ten times as many satellites over the next decade, the need to develop environmentally sound technologies for accessing space is more pressing than ever. ”, specifies the official website of the company. And this applies not only to satellites: while man plans to permanently settle on the Moon, hundreds of launches of equipment and materials are expected in the coming years. And this kinetic launch system without rockets, and therefore without the emission of harmful gases, promises greener flights.

Another great thing about this giant centrifuge is that it greatly reduces startup costs, especially fuel costs. While a standard launch involves an investment of between $5 million and $100 million, a spinner launch will cost less than $500,000, according to SpinLaunch founder Jonathan Jani. Already the first tests carried out on a small prototype proved promising. Since then, SpinLaunch has regularly tested suborbital launches at Spaceport America, New Mexico.

“Technically mature” launch approach

Inside the vacuum centrifuge, the massive rotating carbon fiber arm to which the projectile is attached accelerates to hypersonic speeds and then releases the object in a fraction of a second. Tests have shown that this system can catapult a payload into the air at speeds of over 1,600 km/h at an altitude of approximately 9 km. NASA seems to be convinced of this launch alternative, which is more economical and more environmentally friendly: it just signed a space act deal with a startup to test the machine later this year.

An artist’s impression of the SpinLaunch system tilted to enter orbit. © SpinLaunch

This test flight “will provide NASA with valuable information for future commercial launches,” SpinLaunch told Space.com. The agency plans to launch a payload at about Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) contained in a 3m vehicle; once it reaches the desired height, the latter will deploy a parachute that will allow it to land safely. The payload will be calculated for a series of measurements, which will then be analyzed by both parties.

What started as an innovative idea to make space more accessible has evolved into a technically mature and innovative approach to launch. Yani told Space.com about this. In practice, a vehicle thus propelled would have to fire a rocket engine which would produce maximum thrust to carry it to its destination; but it will only light up when you get to high altitude, which will greatly reduce the amount of fuel needed.

Acceleration equivalent to 10,000 Gs

This launch method, which advantageously replaces the rocket’s first stage, thus allows most of the spacecraft’s mass to be directed to the payload rather than the engines. The team estimates that its process will reduce the cost of putting small satellites into orbit by a factor of twenty and provide dozens of launches per day. ” We look forward to announcing new partners and customers soon and appreciate NASA’s continued interest and support for SpinLaunch. Jonathan Jani said.

The startup is currently working on making satellites compatible with kinetic launch (meaning machines and their components must withstand extreme accelerations equivalent to 10,000 Gs!). ” We have developed a catalog of optimized subsystems and fully integrated turnkey solutions to provide cheaper and more scalable access to space. “, – the company said in a statement. In its catalog: S-20 and S-200, the first of which is optimized for the rapid deployment of commercial satellite constellations, and the second is designed for telecommunications and Earth observation.

It should be noted that tests are currently being carried out on a reduced scale system with a height of about fifty meters. A SpinLaunch spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company plans to conduct further testing at speeds up to Mach 6 later this year. The last launcher, 100 meters high, intended for launch into orbit, should enter service in 2025; The installation location has not yet been announced. SpinLaunch says it will fit launch vehicles up to 200kg, mostly carrying satellites.

Video showing how the operations will take place:

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