New Tech Flings a Projectile into Space

In 2021, a startup tested a system capable of actually throwing objects into outer space.

SpinLaunch’s accelerators don’t use rocket engines. Instead, the drum-shaped launchers use a carbon fiber tether to spin payloads at supersonic velocity. Once up to speed, it releases them into the atmosphere. Soon, the company plans to launch its first orbital craft.

In late October, a preliminary unit called the Suborbital Accelerator successfully fired a test projectile at supersonic speed. The 90-metre-tall machine recently launched its first test flight in New Mexico, at privately-owned launch facility Spaceport America.

How to throw a space projectile

To launch payloads, the system uses an accelerator powered by an electric drive. Here’s how it works: First, the projectile starts whipping around at the end of a carbon fiber tether inside a vertical, disc-shaped, vacuum chamber. Once it reaches speeds of around 8,047kph (many times the speed of sound), it releases the cargo through the launch tube.

SpinLaunch envisions the system as a solution to rocket launch emissions. If implemented as planned, it says its accelerator could cut fuel use by four times compared to a traditional launch. It is also one-tenth as expensive. It plans on handling multiple launches per day.

Big plans: SpinLaunch in context

The existing Suborbital Accelerator is also the predecessor to another, more capable iteration. The L100 Orbital Mass Accelerator would operate similarly, but be capable of launching 200kg satellites into orbit. The system will require tweaks and reinforcements to withstand forces 10,000 times stronger than gravity. But testing has proven that some satellites can survive such conditions.

spinlaunch

A rendering of the bigger SpinLaunch L100.

 

Non-fictionally, people have explored the idea of launching spacecraft without rockets before. In the 1960s, a joint project between the U.S. and Canada called Project Harp aimed to fire projectiles into orbit with what amounted to a gun. Later, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s Project Babylon attempted to revive the project but abandoned it when the lead engineer was assassinated.

The Suborbital Accelerator may be more of a small step than a giant leap toward zero-emissions space travel, as SpinLaunch proposes. But it’s a start; the company plans to continue testing during 2022, in preparation to fling its first customers’ satellites into space in late 2024.

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.


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Jonas
Jonas
4 months ago

Hey, thunderf00t debunked it recently. The one test they did showed that there is still much to be done and the rocket accelerating in vacuum bumping into the thick air is a big problem, let alone the physical stress of fast spinning on any object that needs to work in space. Don’t let yourself be fooled by beautiful renderings… The physics are heavily leaning against this method and they don’t negotiate…

Victor
Victor
4 months ago
Reply to  Jonas

Still, I thought it was interesting to read about a project I hadn’t heard of before. Even though it might not (yet) work, these ideas could eventually lead to better inventions. Look at The Ocean Cleanup system of today which is very different from their first idea.

Private
Private
4 months ago

They didn’t even had a vacuum in their chamber. If you watch the video as soon as the membrane pops the membrane goes outwards while it should go inwards due to the massive amounts of air that floods the chamber.
(not rambling about all the other flaws like weight distribution and scalability, or the wobbly “flight” path)

Guys is a scam. nothing more.

Yo Mama
Yo Mama
4 months ago
Reply to  Private

Oh, well you looked at the photo really hard so clearly you’re an expert.

Yo Mama
Yo Mama
4 months ago

“…vacuum-filled chamber.”

An interesting concept.

John
John
4 months ago

Why is this guy lying? This tech can’t fling anything into space and will never be able to play anything in the space it’s just a scam so that the guy that is running it can pay himself a salary from all the investor money it’s even worse than Elon musk’s underground bullet trains which of course will never be made

Louis-Philippe Loncke
4 months ago
Reply to  John

There’s more money to be won if it works. Let’s wait and see. It’s just a beginning. Let’s see later if it’s a scam or failure.