Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Sunnyvale, CA, United States (4E) – A secretive American spaceflight technology development start-up has resurrected a 1960’s technology that launches spacecraft into Earth orbit by using electromagnetic catapults and not huge launch vehicles.
SpinLaunch, a start-up based in Sunnyvale, California is developing a launch system capable of catapulting payloads into space using a powerful centrifuge. This centrifuge will rotate faster than the speed of sound (4,800 km/h), thereby generating the momentum needed to fling payloads into low Earth orbit. Booster rockets will assist in getting the payload to the desired orbital position.
A launch from a SpaceLaunch space catapult will cost a mere $500,000, said founder and CEO Jonathan Yaney. By comparison, it costs over $60 million to launch a SpaceX Falcon 9 medium-lift launch vehicle.
SpinLaunch first unveiled its technological approach for moving payloads to space in February 2018. It’s currently attempting to raise US$30 million in funding through a series A round to help develop its space catapult. Yaney said his company has raised a total of $10 million thus far.
NASA in the 1960s investigated the feasibility of using a catapult-assisted launch system. Its concept, however, relied on a track instead of a centrifuge. The concept for a centrifuge, however, was proposed in the 1990s by Dr Derek Tidman, a physicist specializing in electrothermal and electromagnetic acceleration.
Dr Tidman called his device a “Slingatron.” A version of the space catapult is currently being researched by HyperV Technologies Corporation, a Virginia-based firm that develops high performance technologies for use in the production, control and diagnostics of plasma, the fourth state of matter. These technologies have applications in the development and control of fusion energy, spacecraft propulsion, and in advanced materials sciences.
“SpinLaunch employs a rotational acceleration method, harnessing angular momentum to gradually accelerate the vehicle to hypersonic speeds,” said Yaney. “This approach employs a dramatically lower cost architecture with much lower power.”
“During the last three years, the core technology has been developed, prototyped, tested and most of the tech risk retired. The remaining challenges are in the construction and associated areas that all very large hardware development and construction projects face.”
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