The prototype vehicle was launched from the company’s ballistic accelerator during its first test flight on October 22, 2021 in Spaceport America, New Mexico.
SpinLaunch, a startup building an alternative way to get a spacecraft into orbit, successfully made its first test flight of a prototype in New Mexico last month.
Based in Long Beach, California, the company is developing a launch system that uses kinetic energy as the primary way to get off the ground. A vacuum-sealed centrifuge spins the rocket at several times the speed of sound before releasing it.
“This is a radically different way to use a ground-based system to accelerate a projectile and launch a rocket at hypersonic speeds,” Spin Launch CEO Jonathan Yanny told CNBC. “This is to enter the commercial market with very high cadence and build a space launch system with the lowest cost launch company in the industry.”
Founded by Yaney in 2014, Spinlaunch has successfully tested on October 22nd in Spaceport America, New Mexico, demonstrating a major milestone in the company’s progress. SpinLaunch has remained mostly quiet so far, but Yaney explained that it was due to the company’s ambitions.
“The more bold and crazy a project is, the better it is to work on it rather than discuss it,” says Yaney. “We had to prove to ourselves that we could actually pull this off.”
SpinLaunch has raised $ 110 million to date from investors such as Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Airbus Ventures, Catapult Ventures, Lauder Partners and McKinley Capital.
The company’s ballistic accelerator in Spaceport America, New Mexico.
The SpinLaunch Ballistic Accelerator represents a one-third scale version, but at heights of over 300 feet, “tall than the Statue of Liberty,” Yaney said the company “actually proves the technology.” I emphasized that it is the size required for this.
The vacuum chamber holds the rotating arm, and Yaney said it accelerates the projectile at high speed and releases the vehicle for launch “in less than a millisecond.” The under-orbit project is about 10 feet long, but “the speed required by the orbit system is thousands of miles per hour,” Yaney added.
“Basically, we can validate the aerodynamic model of what the orbital launch vehicle will look like and try out new technologies for the release mechanism,” says Yaney.
According to Yanny, the first ballistic flight of the spin launch fired using about 20% of the accelerator’s total power capacity, reaching a test altitude of “tens of thousands of feet.”
The first test flight vehicle did not have a rocket engine, but SpinLaunch plans to add it and other internal systems to later in-orbit test flights. The company also plans to retrieve and reuse its own vehicle, and Yaney states that the company has recovered the first vehicle, “it is absolutely flyable.”
According to the current Spin Launch test schedule, the company will carry out approximately 30 ballistic test flights from Spaceport America over the next 6 to 8 months.
Toward the orbit launch
The rendering shows a cross-section of the company’s planned orbital launch vehicle with an internal rocket engine and spacecraft payload.
SpinLaunch is currently completing the design of a full-fledged system, and Yaney states that testing to date has eliminated approximately 90% of the system’s risk.
Traditional rockets typically use large boosters with multiple engines to lift them off the ground. That is, most of the rocket’s mass at launch is fuel, and only a small portion of the total rocket’s mass available to carry the payload. SpinLaunch’s approach aims to invert the “rocket equation” above it, Yaney said. This is “dramatic” in reducing the size of the rocket and its complexity and cost.
The orbital vehicle’s SpinLaunch design can carry a payload of approximately 200 kilograms into orbit. This corresponds to some small satellites.
Rendering of an orbital rocket on board the company’s accelerator.
The company has finalized an agreement on the location of the first orbital launch system, and Yaney states that it is in a “coastal location” rather than in Spaceport America.
“This is a site that needs to be able to support dozens of launches a day,” says Yaney.
SpinLaunch declined to comment on the unprocessed portion of the customer’s launch contract, but in 2019 the company signed a contract with the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit for its first experimental orbital launch.
Spin Launch completes the first test flight of an alternative rocket
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