NASA has agreed to test SpinLaunch’s technology, designed to launch a satellite into space at hypersonic speeds with an electric centrifuge instead of a rocket. The company says that modern carbon fiber is one of the main reasons why the technology was not possible until recently, as the fiber has transitioned to more widespread industrial use.
The idea behind SpinLaunch, based in Long Beach, Calif.—to throw a satellite from the earth like a discus—may seem bizarre, but in initial testing it has shown promise as a more sustainable and even more cost-effective alternative to rocket launched satellites. The SpinLaunch system will hurl the satellite high in the air, and a second-stage rocket provides the final push into orbit.
Satellites launched by this method will need to be extremely durable to handle the force of the launch. The company considers the system appropriate for smaller vehicles weighing as much as 440 pounds. The company believes that without the first-stage rocket, about 70 percent of the fuel and structures typical in traditional rocket launches will be eliminated, using just one-fourth of the fuel and one-tenth of the price.
NASA has agreed to develop and integrate a NASA payload for this kinetic launch system. A test flight is scheduled at Spaceport America, New Mexico, for later this year. All non-proprietary information learned from this test will be published.
The company was founded in 2014. It conducted a successful vertical launch at its New Mexico test site in October 2021. It’s planning an orbital launch for 2025.