Catapulting Rockets into Space Using Kinetic Energy
Space access just got a little cheaper, greener, and more inventive – thanks to SpinLaunch. The California-based space technology company is taking rocket launching to a whole new level by developing an electric-powered space launch system that uses kinetic energy, instead of fuel to get a rocket off of the ground.
It’s called the SpinLaunch Orbital Launch System and it essentially can propel a 440lbs. (200-kilogram) class satellite into low earth orbit from a catapult, also known as the Orbital Accelerator, at supersonic speeds. It’s so powerful that an astronaut would never be considered in this equation for the sheer velocity would be too intense for a human being – at this point.
Technically, this system attaches the said satellite to a colossal rotating arm in a vacuum-sealed extractor. Then, spinning it at several times the speed of sound, it will be released and break through the vacuum-sealed barrier, and then shot into space. The Orbital Accelerator, which is slightly bigger than the Statue of Liberty, spins up to approximately 5,000 mph prior to releasing a “launch vehicle,” or satellite. So far, SpinLaunch has conducted tests over 6x the speed of sound.
This alternative launching method is a more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable approach to space access. When compared to fuel-driven rockets, which are super heavy for lift-off and for fuel storage, the SpinLaunch is a no-brainer. The velocity boost provided by the Suborbital accelerator’s electric drive results in a 4x reduction in the fuel required to reach orbit. Meaning a 10x cost reduction, accompanied by the ability to launch multiple times per day.
Given that the space industry planning to launch ten times the number of satellites over the next decade and increase space travel, it’s critical to develop environmentally sustainable space access technology. Since these kinetically-launched satellites would exit the stratosphere without a rocket, this means that “constellations of satellites and space payloads can be launched with zero emissions in the most critical layers of the atmosphere,” SpinLaunch points out.
Currently, SpinLaunch’s Suborbital Launch Site is located at Spaceport America in New Mexico. However, the first official SpinLaunch Orbital Launch Site’s location is expected to be in a coastal region in the U.S. and will soon be revealed. The first orbital customer launches are anticipated in late 2024.
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