Alternative rocket builder SpinLaunch completes successful first test flight

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  • SpinLaunch, which is building an alternative way to launch the spacecraft into orbit, last month conducted the first successful test flight of a prototype in New Mexico.
  • The company is developing a launch system that uses kinetic energy as its primary method for getting off the ground—spinning at several times the speed of sound—before releasing the rocket with a vacuum-sealed centrifuge. Is.
  • “It’s about building a company and a space launch system that’s going to enter commercial markets with a very high cadence and launch at the lowest cost in the industry,” Spinlaunch CEO Jonathan Yane told CNBC.

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SpinLaunch, a start-up building an alternative method of launching spacecraft into orbit, last month conducted the first successful test flight of a prototype in New Mexico.

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The Long Beach, Calif.-based company is developing a launch system that uses kinetic energy as its primary method for getting off the ground — several times the speed of sound — before releasing the rocket with a vacuum-sealed centrifuge spins at a higher speed.

“It’s a different way to accelerate projectiles and launch vehicles at hypersonic speeds using ground-based systems,” Spinlaunch CEO Jonathan Yane told CNBC. “It’s about building a company and a space launch system that’s going to enter commercial markets with a very high cadence and launch at the lowest cost in the industry.”

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Established in 2014 by Yanni, the successful test of SpinLaunch on October 22 at Spaceport America in New Mexico marks a major milestone in the company’s progress. Spinlaunch is in pretty much kept quiet Until now, what Yani explained was because of the company’s ambitions.

Yanni said, “I think the more audacious and crazy the project is, the better you’re working on it—rather than talking about it.” “We had to prove to ourselves that we could really pull this off.”

SpinLaunch has raised $110 million to date from investors including Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Airbus Ventures, Catapult Ventures, Lauder Partners and McKinley Capital.

First Flight

The SpinLaunch Suborbital Accelerator represents a triple scale version, but – standing at more than 300 feet, “taller than the Statue of Liberty” – Yani emphasized that the company needed the size “to really prove the technology”. Is.

The vacuum chamber consists of a rotating arm, which Yanni said accelerates the projectile to high speed and then, “in less than a millisecond,” releases the vehicle for launch. The suborbital projectile is about 10 feet long, said Yani, but “moves as fast as the orbital system needs, which is many thousands of miles per hour.”

“We can essentially validate our aerodynamic model of what our orbital launch vehicle is going to be and it allows us to try new technologies when it comes to releasing mechanisms,” Yanni said.

SpinLaunch’s first suborbital flight utilized approximately 20% of the accelerator’s full power capacity for launch, and reached a test altitude “in thousands of feet” according to Yanni.

While the first test flight vehicle did not have a rocket engine, SpinLaunch plans to add it and other internal systems in later sub-orbital test flights. The company also plans to recover and reuse its vehicles, Yanni noted that the company recovered the first one “and it’s absolutely flyable.”

In the current spinlaunch test program, the company is operating about 30 suborbital test flights over the next six to eight months from Spaceport America.

moving towards orbital launch

SpinLaunch is now finalizing the design of its full-scale system, Yanni said testing so far has eliminated about 90% of the system’s risk.

Conventional rockets use a large booster, usually with multiple engines, to lift it off the ground. This means that at liftoff most of the rocket’s mass is fuel, with only a small percentage of its total mass available to carry the payload. SpinLaunch’s approach aims to flip the “rocket equation” on its head, Yanne said, which would be “dramatic” in reducing the size of the rocket, as well as its complexity and cost.

The Spinlaunch design for its orbital vehicle would be capable of carrying a payload of about 200 kg, equivalent to a few small satellites, into orbit.

The company is finalizing an agreement for the location of its first orbital launch system, with Yanni noting that the spaceport will not take place in America, but “coastal space.”

“This is a site that needs to be able to support dozens of launches per day,” Yanni said.

SpinLaunch declined to comment on its backlog of customer launch contracts, but the company signed a contract with the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit in 2019 for its first experimental orbital launch.

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