The Space Catapult

An American start-up makes the first catapult capable of sending cargo into space at low cost.

Can you send something into space by throwing it with the slingshot? Yes, if the slingshot is big and powerful enough … The idea is less crazy than it seems: on October 22nd the Californian start-up SpinLaunch successfully completed the first test of its innovative launch system based with centrifuge force.

SPACE CAROUSEL.The space rocket is projected towards the cosmos by a large rotating arm that accelerates until it reaches a tangential velocity equal to several times that of sound. The capsule is then released and launched in the direction of space.

The launch platform, about 50 meters high, is similar to a gigantic carousel: once the caspsula is attached to the arm the entire structure is pressurized, the air is expelled so as to reduce friction and the projectile is put in rotation until reaching the speed necessary to overcome the force of gravity.

In the test flight, a “bullet” about 3 meters long was used which reached a height of several thousand meters. The capsule then descended to the ground with a parachute, but the idea is that, once the thrust given by the catapult is exhausted, it continues its journey to Space thanks to a rocket.

The objective of this first flight was to test the launch structure and verify its operating parameters in real conditions.

SIMPLE AND CHEAP. What advantages does this launch system offer compared to conventional ones? According to its creators, the catapult will allow you to send loads of material into space at much lower costs than today, because it will use much less fuel.

The initial thrust will be provided by kinetic energy and this will allow the construction of smaller, lighter and less complex spacecraft than the current ones … obviously the catapult cannot be used to send humans into space.

ALMOST READY. The company’s goal is now to build an even larger platform, which will allow loads of up to 200 kg to be sent into orbit in reusable capsules. The new spaceport will probably be built along the coast and will be able to carry out dozens of launches per day, since the centrifuge does not require special setups or preparations between flights.

In the next six months, at least thirty suborbital flights are planned to collect useful data for the design of the new plant. SpinLaunch was founded in 2014 by Jonathan Yaney and has raised over $ 110 million in funding from several companies including Google and Airbus. Virtually unknown until a few weeks ago, it will probably make much talk about in the next years.

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