SpinLaunch is catapulting a NASA payload. Cutting 70 percent on fuel and structure?

And it's happening this year.
Chris Young
The Suborbital Accelerator Launch System.SpinLaunch

SpinLaunch, the company designing a catapult-like device to launch rockets into space without propellant, just signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA. 

SpinLaunch "will develop, integrate, and fly a NASA payload on the company’s Suborbital Accelerator Launch System to provide valuable information to NASA for potential future commercial launch opportunities," a press statement reveals.

Though it's in the early testing phase, the system could instigate a seismic shift in the space industry, massively reducing the cost and environmental impact of small satellite launches.

Eliminating more than 70% of fuel and structure requirements

SpinLaunch will fly NASA's payload as part of a developmental flight test later this year, after which it will recover the payload for analysis, the company explains in its statement. Both NASA and SpinLaunch will analyze the data collected after launch in order to assess the viability of the system for future missions.

SpinLaunch's Orbital Accelerator system features a rotating carbon fiber arm inside a 300-ft diameter steel vacuum chamber that is used to accelerate a payload-carrying launch vehicle to speeds of up to 5,000 mph. The arm lets go of the rocket at just the right moment, launching it out of the chamber and up towards orbit.

The company claims its system eliminates more than 70 percent of the fuel and structure requirements of typical rocket launches. NASA, for example, typically uses half a million gallons of water per launch — and that's before taking into account the vast amounts of propellant required to send its rockets into orbit.

Once SpinLaunch's launch vehicle reaches orbit, a very small amount of propellant is used to reach the required velocity and position for payload deployment — an almost negligible amount compared to the amount typically required for liftoff.

Making space even more accessible

SpinLaunch's catapult-like system is definitely one of the more unusual and potentially disruptive ideas we've seen obtain a Space Act contract. Another high-profile Space Act Agreement contract recipient is Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, which recently reached an agreement with NASA to build a commercial space station — or "space business park" — called Orbital Reef. 

NASA's Space Act Agreement is part of its ongoing initiative to help the private sector build new space innovations that the agency could use in its pursuit of furthering science, exploring the cosmos, and establishing a network of future space colonies.

"SpinLaunch is offering a unique suborbital flight and high-speed testing service, and the recent launch agreement with NASA marks a key inflection point as SpinLaunch shifts focus from technology development to commercial offerings," said Jonathan Yaney, Founder, and CEO of SpinLaunch.

"What started as an innovative idea to make space more accessible has materialized into a technically mature and game-changing approach to launch," he added. "We look forward to announcing more partners and customers soon, and greatly appreciate NASA's continued interest and support in SpinLaunch."

SpinLaunch says it will eventually be able to send about 440 lbs of payload to orbit at a fraction of the cost of other satellite launch services, such as those provided by SpaceX, ULA, and other space companies. In November last year, the company announced it would conduct roughly 30 suborbital test flights from Spaceport America over the following eight months. Stay posted for future updates on this medieval-inspired launch system that has the potential to revolutionize the way NASA launches satellites to space.

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