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NASA Supporting Electric Alternative to Rocket Launch

SpinLaunch accelerator

SpinLaunch accelerator chamber in New Mexico (SpinLaunch)

6 Apr. 2022. A company creating an electric-powered launch technology says NASA agreed to a test later this year of a space satellite launched in low earth orbit. SpinLaunch in Long Beach, California says the U.S. space agency is supporting the company’s development of an electric centrifuge as an alternative to conventional rocket launchers, including a test flight of a NASA payload later in 2022.

SpinLaunch, an eight year-old enterprise, is building a space satellite launch system using a large electric-powered circular accelerator in place of rockets with conventional fuel. A carbon-fiber arm rotates in a 300-foot diameter steel centrifuge, with the launch vehicle and payload spinning in a vacuum in speeds of up to 5,000 miles per hour before release and lift off. SpinLaunch says the system uses existing hardware and materials to achieve hypersonic speeds, and saving 70 percent of fuel and structures needed for conventional space launches.

The company says it tested the system in a suborbital flight in October 2021, achieving supersonic speeds and recovery of the flight vehicle, launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico. SpinLaunch says its suborbital launch system is a testing facility for eventual orbital launches planned for 2025. Those orbital flights, says the company, will use a small conventional rocket for final delivery and positioning in earth orbit.

Agreement with NASA’s Flight Opportunities program

SpinLaunch says its agreement with NASA calls for the agency to support development of the company’s technology, including integration and launch of a NASA payload on a test flight later this year. The company says it will recover the payload for NASA, and collaborate with the agency to analyze the results for future launches. SpinLaunch says it will also partner with NASA on publishing non-proprietary data from the test flight.

The company says the agreement with NASA is made through the agency’s Flight Opportunities program that supports promising technologies for space exploration and commerce, including test flights, for researchers in industry, academia, non-profit research institutes, and government labs. Flight Opportunities is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate that seeks to advance technologies for space travel to the moon and Mars, including partnerships with industry, academia, and national labs.

Jonathan Yaney, founder and CEO of SpinLaunch, says in a company statement released through BusinessWire that the NASA agreement “marks a key inflection point as SpinLaunch shifts focus from technology development to commercial offerings.” Yaney adds, “What started as an innovative idea to make space more accessible has materialized into a technically mature and game-changing approach to launch.”

The SpinLaunch project adds to a growing industry presence in space flight and exploration. In October 2021, Science & Enterprise reported on a group of aerospace companies and university researchers planning to build and deploy a commercial space station in low-earth orbit. The Orbital Reef station project is led by Blue Origin, a commercial space flight company headed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, and space infrastructure developer Sierra Space.

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