SpinLaunch just catapulted a NASA payload into the sky for the first time
U.S. startup SpinLaunch — the company that aims to disrupt the rapidly-growing satellite launch industry by catapulting payloads into space with minimal rocket fuel — has just passed a massive test.
The company launched a NASA payload into the sky before recovering it and inspecting the contents to see how they fared after being spun around in its Suborbital Accelerator at up to 10,000 g and 5,000 mph (8,000 km/h).
The test, the company's 10th successful launch, was carried out from Spaceport America in New Mexico on September 27. It's part of a testing campaign to determine whether scientific payloads and satellites could survive the stress of its launch procedure.
In a press statement, the firm said the latest flight demonstrated that the satellite components used are "inherently compatible with the company’s launch environment."
SpinLaunch catapults NASA payload skyward
Earlier this year, NASA announced it had signed a Space Act Agreement contract to test SpinLaunch's technology by having a payload launched by the company's kinetic launch system. Partners and government officials watched on as SpinLaunch carried out the mission on September 27.
NASA wasn't the only payload flung into the sky. SpinLaunch also catapulted payloads from Airbus, Cornell University, and satellite developer Outpost. They were all spun around the company's Suborbital Accelerator at 10,000 g before being launched skyward.
NASA's payload was designed to capture critical flight data. It featured a gyroscope, a magnetometer, two accelerometers, and sensors for temperature and humidity.
"Flight Test 10 represents a key inflection point for SpinLaunch, as we've opened the Suborbital Accelerator system externally for our customers, strategic partners, and research groups," explained Jonathan Yaney, founder & CEO of SpinLaunch. "The data and insights collected from flight tests will be invaluable for both SpinLaunch, as we further the development of the Orbital Launch system, and for our customers who are looking to us to provide them with low-cost, high-cadence, sustainable access to space."
SpinLaunch has revealed little in the way of concrete details about the test flight, though it did say it had a similar trajectory to its previous tests that flew to altitudes of 30,000 ft (9,150 m). Back in May, the company added an optical payload to its launch system to capture its test flights in first-person.
Massively reducing rocket launch infrastructure
SpinLaunch's first-ever flight test took place last November, and the company's kinetic launch system has been in development since 2015. The company's 33-meter-diameter Suborbital Mass Accelerator is a prototype for its eventual full-size 100-meter Orbital Launch system, which it hopes to have ready for operational launches by 2026.
Both systems are circular accelerators, powered by an electric drive that use a mechanical arm to sling payloads around in circles to reach incredibly high speeds of up to 5,000 mph. They then release the payload through a launch tube and spaceward.
The private space firm argues its method will be much cheaper as it eliminates 70 percent of the fuel and infrastructure requirements of a traditional rocket launch. It is also more environmentally friendly, as it only uses a small rocket engine for the final orbital insertion.
Marianne Paguia Gonzalez, a technologist and systems engineer at JPL-NASA, gives us insights into her work for the space agency and a whole lot of pointers on getting into NASA.