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NASA tests SpinLaunch’s ‘whirl ‘n’ hurl’ space launch technology

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NASA could launch its satellites into space later this decade using extraordinary ‘whirl ‘n’ hurl’ launch technology.

The US space agency has signed an agreement with California startup SpinLaunch to test the latter’s bizarre “kinetic” launch system, which is seen as a green alternative to fuel-based launches.

It works by attaching a reusable rocket to a giant rotating arm in an electric vacuum-sealed centrifuge and spinning it at several times the speed of sound.

The rocket is then released and rockets into space to release payloads such as satellites into low Earth orbit. It can then return to Earth to be used again for further launches.

The colossal launcher, which is located at Spaceport America in New Mexico, measures 50.4 meters (165 feet) – slightly larger than the Statue of Liberty (150 feet or 46 meters).

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California-based startup SpinLaunch has built an alternative rocket launch system (pictured) designed to catapult spacecraft into orbit. The system works by attaching a rocket to a giant rotating arm in a vacuum-sealed centrifuge and spinning it at several times the speed of sound. It is then released and shoots into space before returning to Earth

Pictured is the Suborbital Accelerator, created by California startup SpinLaunch, which is larger than the Statue of Liberty in New York.  The company plans to build an even larger version at a different location in the US

Pictured is the Suborbital Accelerator, created by California startup SpinLaunch, which is larger than the Statue of Liberty in New York. The company plans to build an even larger version at a different location in the US

However, this is only a third-scale version of what SpinLaunch ultimately plans to build for future launches.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

An alternative rocket launch system that catapults spacecraft into orbit could someday become a reality after it was successfully tested by California-based company SpinLaunch.

Here’s how the system works:

1. The satellite or spacecraft is loaded into a rocket in the SpinLaunch suborbital accelerator

2. A vacuum-sealed centrifuge spins the rocket at several times the speed of sound before it is released

3. The rotating arm system uses kinetic energy for launch instead of fuel in traditional rockets

4. After reaching space, the orbital launch vehicle will return to Earth to be reused again

According to a recently released statement, SpinLaunch will fly its first NASA payload on a development test flight later this year, including post-flight recovery of the payload to NASA.

The two organizations will also work together to assess the so-called Suborbital Accelerator for future flight capabilities. This could include SpinLaunch’s first orbital test launches, which are scheduled for 2025.

“SpinLaunch offers a unique suborbital flight and high-speed testing service, and the recent launch agreement with NASA marks a major turning point as SpinLaunch shifts its focus from technology development to commercial offerings,” said Jonathan Yaney, SpinLaunch founder and CEO.

What started as an innovative idea to make space more accessible has grown into a technically mature and groundbreaking approach to launch.

“We look forward to announcing more partners and customers soon, and greatly appreciate NASA’s continued interest and support in SpinLaunch.”

SpinLaunch’s machine will accelerate a satellite launch vehicle to 5,000 miles per hour using its rotating carbon fiber arm in a 300-foot diameter steel vacuum chamber.

By doing this, more than 70 percent of the fuel and structures that make up a typical rocket can be eliminated.

SpinLaunch hopes its orbital vehicle will eventually be able to put about 440 lbs (200 kg) of payload into orbit, the equivalent of a number of small satellites.

The company hopes its orbital vehicle (depicted as a cutaway in an artist's impression) will eventually be able to carry about 440 pounds of payload, which is the equivalent of a pair of small satellites.

The company hopes its orbital vehicle (depicted as a cutaway in an artist’s impression) will eventually be able to carry about 440 pounds of payload, which is the equivalent of a pair of small satellites.

In October 2021, SpinLaunch’s first test flight successfully spawned a test vehicle at supersonic speeds and ended with the vehicle salvaging.

A 10-foot-long projectile was rapidly accelerated to thousands of miles per hour in a rotating arm before being released for launch “in less than a millisecond,” Yaney said. CNBC after launch.

The first suborbital flight used about 20 percent of the throttle’s full power and reached a test height ‘in the tens of thousands of feet’.

Since then, the system has conducted regular test flights with a variety of payloads at speeds exceeding 1,000 miles per hour at Spaceport America.

However, that won’t be where the company’s long-term launch system will be based. Instead, a Coastal location site will support “dozens of launches per day,” Yaney said.

A successful test last October involved the suborbital accelerator (pictured), currently a third-scale version of what SpinLaunch ultimately aims to become.

A successful test last October involved the suborbital accelerator (pictured), currently a third-scale version of what SpinLaunch ultimately aims to become.

The vehicle used did not have a rocket engine on board, but SpinLaunch does plan to add one, as well as other internal systems, in future test flights

The vehicle used did not have a rocket engine on board, but SpinLaunch does plan to add one, as well as other internal systems, in future test flights

SpinLaunch claims it offers “a fundamentally new way to access space.”

“SpinLaunch enables a future where constellations of satellites and space payloads can be launched emission-free into the most critical layers of the atmosphere,” the company says on its website.

“In a future where large numbers of people travel to space, structures, equipment and supplies needed to support civilization in space must also be launched.

“In order for tens of thousands of people to work and live in space in one day, millions of tons of infrastructure and supplies need to be launched. SpinLaunch ensures that this is possible with as little environmental impact as possible.’

The company will help meet the high demand for low-Earth orbit launches of low-cost small satellites for disaster monitoring, weather, national security, global communications and more.

SPINLAUNCH: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ROCKET BUILDER

When was SpinLaunch founded? 2014

Who launched the company? It was founded by CEO Jonathan Yaney to “rethink space launch technology” and launch small satellites into low Earth orbit.

How many employees does it have? About 200

Where is it based? Long Beach, California

What is the purpose of the company? It wants to launch payloads on missiles launched from its ‘Suborbital Accelerator’.

What is this? The Suborbital Accelerator is a strange, p-shaped machine 165 feet long. It contains a giant rotating arm inside an electric vacuum-sealed centrifuge, which spins a rocket at several times the speed of sound before being released.

Why? The kinetic energy-powered technology is seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to fuel-based rockets.

Where is the Suborbital Accelerator based? Spaceport America in New Mexico, but eventually it is working on a “coastal location” site to launch its rockets.

When does it plan to perform its first orbital launch? 2025

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