Sending Cargo into Space with a Catapult System. The Zero-Gravity Innovation invented by SpinLaunch

What if instead of blasting cargo into space on a rocket, we could fling it into space using a catapult? That’s the big, possibly crazy, possibly genius idea behind SpinLaunch.

SpinLaunch proposes to launch small packages and satellites into space by using a spinning machine that would fling them into orbit at a far lower cost than traditional, larger rockets.

SpinLaunch was founded in 2014 by Jonathan Yaney in SunnyvaleCalifornia. The company’s current headquarters are in Long Beach, California. SpinLaunch first unveiled its technological approach for moving payloads to space in February 2018 and in 2019 signed a lease at Spaceport America in New Mexico for the purposes of testing. Now, in January 2020, has received an additional $35 million from investors.

 

SpinLaunch is developing a kinetic energy space launch system that reduces dependency on traditional chemical rockets and that significantly lowers the cost of access to space while increasing the frequency of launch. The technology uses a centrifuge to store energy and will then rapidly transfer that energy into a catapult to send a payload to space at up to 4,800 kilometres per hour. If successful, the acceleration concept is projected to be both lower cost and to use much less power, with the price of a single space launch reduced to under US$500,000.

In April 2018, the company announced that it had raised US$40 million in funding provided by Investors Kleiner PerkinsGoogle Ventures and Airbus Ventures.

 

NASA has investigated the possibility of catapult-assisted launches that fire off a track instead of a centrifuge, but none have become cost-effective enough to be successfully used to commercially launch things into space.

Yaney’s method is different. SpinLaunch employs a rotational acceleration method, harnessing angular momentum to gradually accelerate the vehicle to hypersonic speeds. This approach employs a dramatically lower cost architecture with much lower power.

Potential challenge could be air resistance upon the cargo when the catapult fires. Earth’s atmosphere is so dense that it could be like the cargo was hitting a brick wall upon ejection. Any electronics or other sensitive materials in the cargo might have to be engineered to withstand intense G-forces.

If SpinLaunch can overcome the technical barriers, it could democratize access to space by lowering launch costs, that could accelerate a new era of zero-gravity innovation.

 

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