Exotic Non-Rocket US Launcher Conducts a Successful 20% Power Test – Watts Up With That?

Exotic Non-Rocket US Launcher Conducts a Successful 20% Power Test – Watts Up With That?

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

US based SpinLaunch has performed their first 20% power launch, flinging a test payload “10s of thousands” of feet into the sky.

Alternative rocket builder SpinLaunch completes first test flight


SpinLaunch, which is building an alternative method of launching spacecraft to orbit, last month conducted its first test flight of a prototype in New Mexico.

The company is developing a launch system that uses kinetic energy as its primary method to get off the ground – with a vacuum-sealed centrifuge spinning the rocket at several times the speed of sound before releasing.

“It’s a radically different way to accelerate projectiles and launch vehicles to hypersonic speeds using a ground-based system,” SpinLaunch CEO Jonathan Yaney told CNBC. “This is about building a company and a space launch system that is going to enter into the commercial markets with a very high cadence and launch at the lowest cost in the industry.”

The SpinLaunch suborbital accelerator represents a one-third scale version, but – standing about 165 feet, “taller than the Statue of Liberty” – Yaney emphasized that it’s the size the company needs “to really prove the technology.”

The vacuum chamber holds a rotating arm, which Yaney said accelerates the projectile to high speed and then, “in less than a millisecond,” releases the vehicle for launch. The suborbital projectile is about 10 feet long, but “goes as fast as the orbital system needs, which is many thousands of miles an hour,” Yaney added.

“We can essentially validate our aerodynamic models for what our orbital launch vehicles are going to be like and it allows us to try out new technologies when it comes to release mechanisms,” Yaney said.

SpinLaunch’s first suborbital flight utilized about 20% of the accelerator’s full power capacity for the launch, and reached a test altitude “in the tens of thousands of feet,” according to Yaney.

Read More: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/09/spinlaunch-completes-first-test-flight-of-alternative-rocket.html

A word of caution – SpinLaunch still have a long way to go, until they are ready to attempt their first true orbital launch.

So far that big carbon fibre arm has only been subject to 20% of its design tolerance. Pushing it to 100% or whatever the design velocity is will be a white knuckle ride. Any undetected mechanical flaw and the launcher could spectacularly disintegrate, with an energy release comparable to a rocket failure.

And like all ground based launchers, a course correction will be required once the payload is in space, otherwise the payload will come down on top of someone. Orbits mathematically tend to intersect the last point at which thrust was applied. So the launch vehicle will need a rocket or explosive charge which can survive the 10,000G initial launch to complete the orbital entry, to alter the trajectory once the payload is in space, to create a stable orbit which does not include re-entry into the atmosphere.

Before you dismiss this as impractical, consider that the extreme acceleration experienced by SpinLaunch payloads is comparable to the conditions experienced by an explosive smart projectile fired from a large artillery gun – so it is likely most of the technology required for the orbital insertion package has already been developed.

There will be plenty of uses for this launch system if they can get it working. Consumables like oxygen and prepared food can survive insane launch accelerations, so are obvious candidates for a high-G spin launch. Specially hardened satellites, even chunks of rock, to help transfer momentum to correct the orbit of large space stations, are all possible uses.

Even with a course correction component, SpinLaunch offers potentially enormous cost savings over a conventional launch. With conventional rocket launches, most of the mass of the launch vehicle is fuel. Think an enormous rocket with a tiny payload perched on top.

With SpinLaunch, only around half the mass of the launch payload will be fuel for the orbital insertion course correction, allowing far more useful payload to be lofted into space with each launch.

New and innovative technologies like SpinLaunch are a potential counter foreign space innovation efforts, like Russia’s nuclear powered launcher project, which if perfected could pose a significant challenge to US space dominance.

The following video provides more background on SpinLaunch.


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