The SpinLaunch slingshot to space
Late last month (September 2022), a plucky group of aerospace engineers and techs using an oversized centrifuge successfully tested their idea to throw a demo payload – including a NASA test package – high into the sky, at high speeds. The payload went up (and was later recovered) from the Jornada del Muerto desert in the U.S. state of New Mexico. SpinLaunch says its goal is to provide affordable and rapid cargo launches to space. And to that end the team has constructed an enormous centrifuge – inside a disk-shaped vacuum chamber – which the company says will eventually be able to fling an unpowered vehicle up into Earth-orbit.
The launcher stands more than 50 meters (165 feet) high, slightly taller than the 46-meter (151-foot) Statue of Liberty. Basically, it’s the world’s biggest slingshot. And it’s located at Spaceport America, which is situated on 18,000 acres adjacent to the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico.
The company has now used the machine to launch payloads at speeds up to 4,700 mph (7,500 kph). That’s not fast enough to get into Earth-orbit yet. For that, you need speeds of 17,500 mph (28,000 km/hr). But the company says it is working toward developing an orbital version.
Another caveat. SpinLaunch’s A-33 Suborbital Mass Accelerator produced up to 10,000 gravities (Gs) during during its September 2022 test launch. And it will need to provide still-greater gravities while achieving the speeds necessary to get to space. It’s clear the system will never be suitable for human passengers. Humans can only withstand about 10 Gs.
But check out this video!
A 10,000 G takeoff
The company marked a milestone with its 10th kinetic launch with a demonstration for four of its potential customers, showing that its satellites and test equipment can withstand the force of a launch leaving the ground at top speed.
The company announced its success on October 3:
The flight test, which occurred on September 27, 2022, demonstrated that SpinLaunch partners’ standard satellite components are inherently compatible with the company’s launch environment, and provided critical flight data, as all payloads were flown and recovered successfully.
This was the 10th successful test of the accelerator since October 2021.
Bottom line: A private company, Spinlaunch, has built a mass accelerator and hopes to launch payloads into space using this technology.