Research, Technology

How does the technology of launching satellites into space without the use of rockets work?

In the 1960s, the United States and Canada launched the Projecthigh-altitude research, within the framework of which they developed methods for launching artificial Earth satellites into low orbits using "space guns". They assembled a 406-millimeter cannon with a barrel length of 40 meters, capable of firing 180-kilogram projectiles at a speed of 3600 meters per second - this was enough for the cargo to be sent on a suborbital flight. But this power is not enough to launch satellites into near-Earth orbit, so the projectile being sent needed a rocket engine. In 2014, SpinLaunch was founded in California, which decided to turn the idea of ​​half a century ago into reality. She wants to build a huge centrifuge to spin up small launch vehicles and "throw" them into the sky. It is expected that this technology will reduce the damage caused to nature by conventional rockets, as well as reduce the cost of sending cargo into space. Recently, NASA decided to help SpinLaunch with testing.

Spin Launcher

History of SpinLaunch

Since its founding in 2014, the headquartersSpinLaunch was located in an old microprocessor factory near Google headquarters. Two years later, engineers assembled the first test centrifuge with a diameter of 12 meters. After untwisting, the shells flew out of the cannon at speeds up to 6500 kilometers per hour. The idea of ​​the representatives of the company seemed promising to other firms, thanks to which they were able to attract investments from such giants as Google Ventures, Airbus, Byers and so on. With this money, the company began building a headquarters in the California city of Long Beach and equipment for flights at the America spaceport.

There are several prototype SpinLaunch installations

Technology for launching satellites into space without rockets

Current launchers have a diameter of about35 meters, the final version should have a circumference of 100 meters. It is expected that the design will be able to launch cargo weighing up to 200 kilograms into space. The barrel must necessarily be inclined at 35 degrees with respect to the ground, because it is important that the projectile be able to gain the required elevation angle.

3D model of a small launch vehicle inside a centrifuge

The essence of the developed technology is quite simple.The launcher housing contains a centrifuge into which it is planned to launch a small rocket without the first stage - it is used to launch an aircraft into the sky, but in this case it is completely replaced by a mechanism developed by SpinLaunch. After reaching a speed of 8000 kilometers per hour, the rocket leaves the centrifuge through the barrel, breaking through the membrane. At an altitude of about 60 kilometers, the aircraft turns on the rocket engine and launches the payload into near-Earth space.

The technology could be especially effective for launching cubesats into orbit.

See also: What happens if the GPS satellite navigation system stops working?

Prospects for abandoning full-fledged launch vehicles

It is hoped that the company'sSpinLaunch technology will save up to 70 percent of rocket fuel, and in general, reduce the cost of launching rockets into low Earth orbit many times over. One of the parties most interested in technology is the NASA aerospace agency. It recently decided to help SpinLaunch with another test of the system. The exact date is unknown, but somewhere in 2022 they will launch a small payload into the sky at a speed of 1600 kilometers per hour. The cargo will be equipped with sensors that will collect important data for researchers - they will be carefully studied and used to improve technology. If all goes well, the first official launch of satellites using a centrifuge will take place in 2025.

SpinLaunch Technology Demonstration

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At the moment to launch small satellitesultralight rockets are usually used. One of them is Rocket Lab's Electron, which costs between $4.9 million and $6.6 million each launch, depending on the weight of the payload. The company is trying to reduce the cost of launches by reusing the first stages - they are already successfully returned using parachutes. But there is no limit to perfection, so in the second half of April the company will try to catch missiles using a helicopter. You can read more about this here.