SpinLaunch, a California-based firm, has made headlines for their novel method to space flight, which involves launching rockets into orbit using a vacuum-sealed centrifuge.
SpinLaunch has been developing a launch technology that primarily use kinetic energy. It employs a complicated machinery, including a vacuum-sealed centrifuge, to spin the space rocket at multiple times the speed of sound before releasing it upwards through a chute. If successful, SpinLaunch’s approach could be the most cost-effective and dependable method of launching items into orbit. In October, the business successfully launched a prototype vehicle tens of thousands of feet into the atmosphere using its SpacePort suborbital accelerator in New Mexico.
SpinLaunch has been working on its innovative system for years, during which time it has secured over $100 million in funding from various investors, including Google Venture, Airbus Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins. It also has a functional SpacePort built in New Mexico to carry out kinetic launch tests. So why haven’t we heard more about them until now? Well, CEO Jonathan Yaney has a pretty good explanation.
“I find that the more audacious and crazy the project is, the better off you are just working on it – rather than being out there talking about it,” Yaney told CNBC. “We had to prove to ourselves that we could actually pull this off.”
But the test carried out in October proved a massive success, and news of the company’s radically new launch system spread like wildfire. It’s a game-changer to be sure, one that flips the “rocket equation” on its head. Conventional space rockets rely on massive amounts of fuel and powerful engines to get off the ground, so most of their mass is taken up by them, leaving only a fraction of space for payloads. SpinLaunch, on the other hand, only uses kinetic energy to reach high altitudes, where engines can take over.
The company’s SpacePort suborbital accelerator in New Mexico, which stands 165 feet tall, is roughly the size of the Statue of Liberty, but it’s only one-third the scale SpinLaunch would need to launch actual rockets. Still, as it stands, it is sufficient to demonstrate that its technology works and to iron out any problems.
The circular vacuum-sealed chamber of the SpacePort holds a rotating arm capable of accelerating any object at “many thousands of miles an hour” before releasing it upwards. Although it reportedly only used 20 percent of its power for the recent test launch in October, the system managed to launch a prototype “tens of thousands of feet” into the air.
Although the launched vehicle did not incorporate a rocket engine that would take over once a certain altitude was reached, SpinLaunch does plan to add them in the near future. Like SpaceX, it also plans to retrieve launched space rockets, thus reducing costs even more. It managed to retrieve the prototype, which Yaney describes as “absolutely flyable”.
There’s no doubt that SpinLaunch and its innovative technology captured a lot of people’s imagination, and for good reason, but the company still has a lot to prove, and many doubt that it will ever achieve everything it promised thus far. Just check out Thunderf00t’s video on it.