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Slingshot to throw satellites into space?

November 12, 2021

An idea is being developed and tested in New Mexico’s Spaceport America; In essence it is a giant slingshot device that is claimed can hurl – robustly built – small satellites partly on their way into Earth orbit.

SpinLaunch, headquartered in Long Beach, California, is the business behind the idea which is far from stupid. The centrifuge can achieve massive rotations equal to near-5000 mph (8047 km/h). An October 22nd test firing sent a 10-ft long projectile up thousands of feet into the sky despite the centrifuge running at only around 20 per cent of its maximum power.

The Wall Street Journal described the company as ‘the Space Industry’s best kept secret’. Its backers include Google, Airbus, Lauder Partners and others and it has raised $80 million in funding.

SpinLaunch will never be for humans, and any device planned to be launched would need especially tough internals given that the launch would be subject to a ‘G’-force of around 10,000. Humans would die instantly.

The current SpinLaunch sub-orbital Kinetic Accelerator device is somewhat smaller than a full-scale version but which could then handle satellites of up to about 440 lbs (200 kgs). The catapult Accelerator starts the process but as part of the unit is a rocket which then kicks in at about 61,000 kms and takes the cargo onward to orbit.

The timetable to have a larger device working is 2024.The smaller test unit stands at about 50 metres in height. The final version would be some three-times higher.

The plan is to see ‘cost to orbit’ reduced something like 20-fold.

The overall concept is said to reduce the cost While this particular idea is new (and SpinLaunch started work in 2014) the idea of some sort of ‘space gun’ has been around for years. For example, Canadian-born artillery expert Dr Gerald Bull designed and started work on a massive ‘super-gun’ able to launch projectiles and satellites into orbit in the early 1960s. The plan called for a 150 ft long device weighing some 1500 tonnes with the barrels made by UK-based Sheffield Forgemasters and Matrix Churchill. Bull was assassinated in March 1990 and his work seized by various government agencies.

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