SpaceX Too Expensive? SpinLaunch Will Catapult Cargo Into Space for $500K

Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - 10:47AM
Technology
Space
Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - 10:47AM
SpaceX Too Expensive? SpinLaunch Will Catapult Cargo Into Space for $500K
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Image credit: SpinLaunch

To escape Earth's gravity, a spacecraft needs to be going around 25,000 miles per hour. Apart from a certain nuclear manhole, not many objects can pull that off without the use of rockets. SpaceX and other companies are trying to get around the tremendous cost of conventional rocket launches by making their rockets reusable, but a new, secretive space start-up called SpinLaunch wants to take the rockets out of the equation entirely.

The idea behind SpinLaunch is to use a giant centrifuge instead, accelerating payloads to speeds of around 3,000 miles per hour (almost Mach 4) and then launching them into the atmosphere. According to Jonathan Yaney, the CEO, "SpinLaunch employs a rotational acceleration method, harnessing angular momentum to gradually accelerate the vehicle to hypersonic speeds. This approach employs a dramatically lower cost architecture with much lower power."

Instead of coming with a $90 million price tag like a SpaceX launch, the projected cost of a SpinLaunch...uh, launch...would be around $500,000. That means, depending on the payload in question, a centrifuge launch would cost less than 1 percent of a traditional rocket operation. Even if SpinLaunch is limited when it comes to the kinds of cargo they can catapult into space, the drastically low cost could open up space to a larger range of companies. Considering that private space companies took in about $4 billion dollars in investments last year, it's the perfect time to get in the game.



SpinLaunch has made progress with investors too, but the biggest hurdle is going to be creating that giant centrifuge. "During the last three years, the core technology has been developed, prototyped, tested and most of the tech risk retired," according to Yaney. "The remaining challenges are in the construction and associated areas that all very large hardware development and construction projects face."

We'll be honest here: a huge Mach-3 centrifuge spinning thousand-pound satellites around sounds like the kind of device that's designed to explode spectacularly (Elon Musk even created a highlights reel of his rocket explosions to demonstrate that hey, things go wrong). On top of that, two anonymous scientists have pointed out that any payload SpinLaunch shoots into the atmosphere is going to deal with huge amounts of air resistance, as well as tremendous G-forces. Making sure the cargo can withstand both of those could make its operation pricier and less attractive.

Still, it's exciting to see a new challenger in the space race that's trying to change the game. We'll see where SpinLaunch goes from here.

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