Imagine a future where instead of sending payloads of cargo into space on rockets we used catapults instead? This might sound a little silly, even taking a step backward technologically but that's exactly what Spinlaunch intends to do. Founded in 2014 by Jonathan Yaney (he also built solar-powered drone startup Titan Aerospace) Spinlaunch has recently raised $30 million in Series A funding from investors, according to Techcrunch.
The idea behind the Spinlaunch's catapults is to dispense with the costly use of chemical propellant rockets, and if successful this should make getting cargo into space a lot cheaper and more sustainable in the future. Once all the kinks are worked out, it could be used to launch satellites into space at a fraction of the cost of expensive booster rockets from companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Rockets were so last Century
Spinlaunch's solution will be to develop large centrifuges to spin the cargo up to an incredible speed. With a large build up of momentum achieved, the payload would then be released into space at speeds sufficient enough to break free of Earth's gravity. (some sources at Spinlaunch told Techcrunch at speeds around 3,000 miles which is 4828 kph per hour)
So long as the cargo has enough momentum, it should be able to reach space without any extra help. For more awkward payloads launch could be augmented with booster rockets to provide enough thrust to escape Earth's gravity.
Yaney revealed to TechCrunch a render of their planned future launch site hanger, and he said, "Since the dawn of space exploration, rockets have been the only way to access space. In 70 years, the technology has only made small incremental advances." He further added, "To truly commercialize and industrialize space, we need 10x tech improvement.”
Spinlaunch are Very Secretive
Spinlaunch has been frustratingly secretive about this new project to the extent that their website is even password protected. Job listings for Sunnyvale, California also simply refer to the company as a "rapidly growing space launch startup."
Despite this, the startup was recently issued $25 million in bonds to help them “constructing a portion of its electrical small satellite launch system.” Hawaii is banking on winning some construction contracts, and jobs while simultaneously meeting the government plans to expand space accessibility.
Since its founding in 2014, Spinlaunch, according to the SEC, has raised around $10 million in both equity and debt including some of Yaney's own capital. When asked about the extra $30 million Yaney said that "the current status of our Series A raise is that we are still taking meetings with potential investors and have not yet received an executed offer".
He has been co-founding companies since the year 2000 including TriVance and Moretti Designs. He also started Titan Aerospace, that was sold to Google in 2014 after receiving acquisition interest from Facebook.
As SpinLaunch are very secretive, we can only imagine what the launch system will actually look like...
Spinlaunch could be a gamechanger
If you want to get something into space, you currently need to use a rocket. These require a vast amount of propellant, which takes up a lot of space and is heavy. This normally leaves a very small amount of the craft's mass for the actual cargo.
Spinlaunch's method will eliminate the need for rockets and propellant. Instead, it will deliver objects into space using a kinetic launch system.
The foundational principle is similar to mass accelerator technology that has been in development since the 1960's, except with a twist. Today, there are existing technologies like electromagnetic rail and coil guns, light gas guns, ram accelerator and blast wave accelerators.
NASA has even toyed with a catapult assisted launch system. Their design, however, makes use of a launch rail instead of a centrifuge. None of these are cost-effective enough to commercially launch cargo into space, just yet.
Speaking with TechCrunch, Yaney explained why Spinlaunch would be 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.”
Spinlaunch should cost around $50,000 per launch. By way of comparison, a typical rocket-based launch cost around $5 to $100 million per trip.
Not all plane sailing
Spinlaunch certainly sounds appealing. Once developed, the reduced cost per launch should open up space cargo delivery to a wider market.
But not everyone is convinced. Some physicists have concerns about the practicality of the design. Especially the challenge of air resistance.
Earth's atmosphere is very dense so the launched cargo would need to be engineering to withstand resistance and G-Forces and leaked images of dart-shaped launch vehicles could point to the fact that the answer might just simply be good aerodynamics.
According to Yaney, the core launch technology has been developed, built and tested over the last three years. "The remaining challenges are in the construction and associated areas that all very large hardware development and construction projects face" he insists.
This is not a cheap undertaking, as you can imagine. To help its development, Spinlaunch needed to talk to institutional VC firms to fund it.
Time will tell if Spinlaunch can iron out all the creases and test fire it for real. Once the technological challenges are overcome, however, it will offer an interesting alternative to conventional rockets.
If successful it will significantly reduce the cost of space travel and potentially trigger a new era of low to zero gravity innovation. Spinlaunch might just trigger an explosion in space-based industries from space travel to mining.