SpinLaunch to Launch NASA Payload With Centrifuge Later This Year

Luke Allen, Editor

A relatively new space company located in California called SpinLaunch has been contracted by NASA to launch a test payload into suborbital space. After a successful test launch of a vehicle equipped with a camera in April NASA has signed on to launch a test vehicle with the company’s unique launch system later this year.

SpinLaunch has already had several successful vehicle launch tests since it’s establishment in 2015, but what makes this most recent launch important is the fact that it was equipped with a camera which recorded the full launch showing that the launch system is capable of launching a payload without destroying the electronics inside. As the company representatives state in the description of the YouTube video containing the test flight footage, “ Flying with the digital camera system onboard marks an important step towards integrating complex payloads into SpinLaunch flight test vehicles.”

SpinLaunch uses a huge electronic centrifuge inside of a vacuum chamber in order to sling a rocket into suborbital space. The company’s suborbital accelerator is larger than the Statue of Liberty and uses electric motors in order to spin the carbon fiber sling arm at over 1,000 miles per hour inside of the 300 foot vacuum chamber. The vacuum reduces friction allowing the accelerator to reach such speeds without breaking. The arm then releases the launch vehicle sending it flying. After ascending above the stratosphere the rocket activates a small and inexpensive engine to propel it for the last stretch of the flight. 

Due to the high rotational speeds reached within the spin chamber there were fears that under that amount of stress either the rotational arm would break apart or the electronics inside the satellite would be broken. The first tests showed that the vacuum chamber that the accelerator depends on works as designed and the rotational arm is strong enough to endure the rotational force. The newest test however, proves the feasibility of the suborbital accelerator’s design to potential clients and assures that they won’t have to spend millions to redesign and stress test their systems to use SpinLaunch’s accelerator. 

The accelerator is designed in order to launch small to medium sized satellites of up to 440 pounds into sub orbital space using cost effective and environmentally friendly reusable rockets. As stated on the SpinLaunch website “The SpinLaunch Orbital Launch System is a fundamentally new way to reach space. The velocity boost provided by the accelerator’s electric drive results in a 4x reduction in the fuel required to reach orbit, a 10x reduction in cost, and the ability to launch multiple times per day.” If the NASA test flight succeeds it will be an instrumental step towards the company being able to successfully complete their orbital accelerator. As of now SpinLaunch aims to have a successful orbital launch by 2025. 

If successful SpinLaunch’s orbital accelerator would open up the satellite industry to private companies due to the lowered cost of fuel and being able to use SpinLaunch’s own reusable launch vehicles. “[T]he recent launch agreement with NASA marks a key inflection point as SpinLaunch shifts focus from technology development to commercial offerings,” said CEO of SpinLaunch Jonathan Yaney. Although it won’t be possible to launch manned flights from SpinLaunch’s accelerator it may enable companies around the world to be able to make new innovations in satellite technology with lower costs and with less of an environmental impact.