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NASA will test SpinLaunch’s suborbital accelerator that flings satellites into orbit

Updated Apr 13th, 2022 8:04AM EDT

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NASA has signed up to help test SpinLaunch’s suborbital accelerator. The massive device was designed to literally sling satellites and other small spacecraft into space at over five times the speed of sound. The NASA SpinLaunch test is set to take place later this year using a specialized kinetic launch system.

NASA SpinLaunch test could open new doors for accessing space

Planets of the solar systemImage source: Denis Rozhnovsky/Adobe

One of the most exciting things about NASA signing on to test SpinLaunch’s system is the number of possibilities that it unlocks for getting more satellites to space. Currently, getting new spacecraft up through the atmosphere is costly. Not only does it cost a lot to build the hardware for the spacecraft, but you also have to juggle fuel costs and the cost of launch stations.

If the NASA SpinLaunch test goes well, it could give the space agency a new way to get some of its spacecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere. Of course, we aren’t talking about manned spacecraft here. Because of the SpinLaunch accelerator’s unique design, it requires certain craft to properly use it. As such, fitting a manned spacecraft into the accelerator would be quite a journey.

You also have to take the number of G’s created into account, too. Launch vehicles are situated at the end of a large carbon-fiber arm. They are then spun at extreme speeds until ready to launch. These speeds can create up to 10,000 G’s during the wind-up. The human body is only able to withstand up to 9 G’s, and even then, only for a few seconds. So, putting an astronaut in those conditions is out of the question.

However, it could unlock new ways to send other payloads to space. If the NASA SpinLaunch test is successful, it could give the space agency new ways to deliver much-needed supplies to space. It could also open new doors to launching specialized spacecraft like the Parker Solar Probe.

How SpinLaunch works

As I noted above, SpinLaunch uses kinetic force to launch small vehicles into the air. Currently, the company has only developed a suborbital accelerator. That station is located in Spaceport America, New Mexico. However, it has plans to build a more powerful orbital accelerator in an undisclosed location in the future. The NASA SpinLaunch test will use the smaller accelerator.

But how does it work? Essentially, SpinLaunch works by attaching the launch vehicle to the end of a carbon-fiber arm housed in a 300-foot diameter steel vacuum chamber. The arm spins repeatedly until it reaches the velocities needed to launch the vehicle. It will utilize this same system during the NASA SpinLaunch test later this year.

Currently, SpinLaunch is only capable of launching vehicles weighing up to around 440 lbs, or 200kg. Even then, the spacecraft launched with the system needs to include ultra-ruggedized components that can withstand the 10,000 G conditions. That’s why the company is building a special vehicle for the NASA SpinLaunch test.

Because it doesn’t rely on first-stage rockets to get the vehicles in the air, SpinLaunch can cut out around 70 percent of the fuel and structures traditionally needed. That allows it to shoot loads into orbit while using a quarter of the fuel, and it costs almost 90 percent less than traditional launches.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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