Calling all physics-obsessed Outsiders! A space startup called SpinLaunch may have discovered a way around one of the biggest barriers to cost-effective space travel. Fair warning, the exact science may be a bit above our paygrade. But we’ve got a pretty good idea as to what’s happening here.
Are you ready? The New Mexico-based company is spinning stuff super fast in a giant wheel and launching it out of a tube. Impressed yet? Well, you should be. As simple as we made it sound just now, in practice, this launch method spits in the face of the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation.
Don’t know what that is? Neither did we. Basically, the equation is what has made launching things into orbit so expensive (and dangerous). In order for something like a ship or a satellite to slip the surly bonds of Earth, it requires incredible amounts of energy. Historically, this energy has come from multi-stage rockets filled with massive amounts of fuel. The Tsiolkovsky rocket equation dictates that the overwhelming majority of a rocket’s weight needs to consist of fuel.
SpinLaunch’s Suborbital Accelerator, though, tosses that equation out the window. Instead, a big electric motor spins what amounts to the final stages of a rocket really fast in a vacuum-sealed circle, then shoots it tens of thousands of feet into the air before the boosters kick in and take it the rest of the way. It’s called “kinetic launch.”
Obviously, there is far more science at play here that we’re not qualified to dissect. But if you’re interested in the finer details of how the system works, you can check out the SpinLaunch website here.
In the meantime, take a look at one of the space startup’s first successful test launches below.
Unfortunately, the Space Startup’s Launch Method Probably Won’t Work for Humans
You do not want to be inside this Subortial Accelerator when it’s crankin’ up. Have you ever been on one of those Gravitron rides at a fair or a carnival? You know, the ones with the sliding panels that lift you off the ground as the machine picks up speed?
Well, imagine that, but at 100x the speed. These aren’t exact numbers, mind you. Though the test launch you saw above only saw the accelerator reach 20% capacity. It’s safe to say there are going to be a few hurdles to jump before SpinLaunch attempts something like this with living things.
But living things aren’t what they’re working toward at the moment. According to the company, electronics like satellites are suited for the gravitational forces that the kinetic launch system inflicts.
“Even unmodified smartphones, action cameras, and telescope lenses have survived without damage. In comparison to mechanical systems, electronics are surprisingly simple to ruggedize for kinetic launch,” SpinLaunch writes.
The startup is still in its early stages but has already found significant investment.