By John Vennavally-Rao
April 22, 2022 (CTV Network) — NASA is testing a massive catapult-like device aimed at tossing small satellites into orbit. The U.S. space agency is teaming up with California-based company SpinLaunch, which is working on a spinning arm that can hurl payloads at incredible speeds into the upper atmosphere and on to space. The system is environmentally friendly and could drastically lower the cost of satellites reaching orbit. It was in part inspired by the work of American and Canadian researchers more than 50 years ago. “It really shows our ability as a species to come up with new and novel ideas,” says York University astronomer Paul Delaney. “It’s very exciting.” The startup has built a prototype in New Mexico. It’s the height of the Statue of Liberty and consists of a centrifuge inside a vacuum chamber. A rocket is loaded onto the large carbon-fiber arm, which is powered by electric motors. Eventually they hope to get the arm to spin up to 450 rotations per minute with the rocket reaching a speed of around 8,000 km/h before being released. Once hurled into the upper atmosphere, a small engine would then kick in to push the satellite to its orbital destination. In a company video, former director of NASA Ames research Pete Worden says, “The real advantage of SpinLaunch is that most of the energy needed doesn’t have to be carried with you.” Rockets require massive amounts of fuel to get their payloads into space. It made up 90 per cent of the mass of the Saturn V, which carried astronauts towards the moon. SpinLaunch would require 70 per cent less fuel than a traditional rocket. “Everything that I can see about SpinLaunch suggests that 20 to 200 kilogram payloads can be launched very successfully and quite inexpensively this way,” says Delaney. The CEO and founder of SpinLaunch, Jonathan Yaney, has said the idea was in part inspired by a military project in the 1960s that involved both Canadian and American researchers. They used giant guns to fire projectiles into the upper atmosphere at speeds fast enough to get into space. The project was called HARP, which stood for High Altitude Research Project. Yaney has said it was the closest alternative to using rockets. “I really took a look at it from just a fresh perspective and that’s when the idea of a rotational accelerator came up,” said Yaney in a video released by the company. SpinLaunch is now planning to build a launcher three times larger than the one in New Mexico, and hopes to fling its first satellite into orbit by 2025.
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