SpinLaunch wants to revolutionize the way we get into orbit by launching objects into space at speeds of up to 5,000 miles per hour from the ground. It has now been awarded a lucrative NASA contract that will allow it to demonstrate its capabilities later this year. The concept of SpinLaunch has been discussed for years, but until recently, the premise of speeding material into orbit via a kind of subsurface centrifuge was, shall we say, only faintly supported by the evidence.
An arm that rotates in a massive vacuum chamber, spinning faster and faster until the vehicle it is carrying is ultimately released via an exit tube, is used to power the device. Although it seems to be a simple concept (just a gigantic sling), it is not so straightforward to implement in practice. However, tests beginning late last year demonstrated that they were at least capable of launching a payload at speeds in excess of 1,000 miles per hour to altitudes of approximately 30,000 feet and recovering it.
It is still in the early stages, but the idea of cutting the fuel and bulk of even suborbital payloads by more than half is plainly appealing to NASA, which has entered into a Space Act agreement with SpinLaunch to put the system through its paces to see how well it works. A test deployment is expected for later this year, during which SpinLaunch will propel a NASA cargo into space at supersonic speeds and then retrieve it within minutes of landing. In the next weeks, the two organizations will assess the mission’s performance and determine if it will be beneficial for future launches, as well as disclose any non-confidential findings on their respective websites.
After being launched at around Mach 2, the payload will be enclosed in a 3-meter test vehicle that seems to be in the shape of a torpedo; once reaching the correct height, the payload will activate its parachute and glide back to earth. Located at Spaceport America in New Mexico, the 33-meter test facility where it will take place will be used for the event. A spokesman from SpinLaunch said that the business expects to test at speeds as high as Mach 6 (about 4,600 miles per hour) later this year. They plan to be able to use the full-scale 100-meter launcher in service by 2025.