Space startup wants to sling satellites into orbit with a huge centrifuge

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,269   +894
Staff member
In a nutshell: In the 21st century, there's a new space race, primarily between Tesla (SpaceX) and Amazon (Blue Origin). Both are concentrating on traditional methods of launching satellites into space—namely, big rockets. However, a small space startup called SpinLaunch is developing a cheaper and environmentally cleaner way of launching satellites.

SpinLaunch is using a gigantic centrifuge to shoot stuff into space. By "stuff," we mean things that can withstand the G-force created by being spun at 5,000 miles per hour (over 10,000 Gs), which is a category of stuff that does not yet include satellites. However, it did launch a missile-like projectile tens of thousands of feet into the air last month, using only 20 percent of the accelerator's power.

The design is relatively simple. A carbon fiber tether holds the projectile inside a span vacuum chamber as it spins up to speed. Once the centrifuge has reached the desired velocity, the launch vehicle is released out a tube taller than the Statue of Liberty (50.4 meters). It is not unlike launching your friends off the merry-go-round when you were a kid. A more mature and controlled application of the principle would be the hammer throw event in the Olympics.

New Atlas notes that the accelerator is electric and could cut the amount of fuel needed to launch satellites. SpinLaunch estimates that its centrifuge uses four times less fuel than traditional rockets and has zero emissions. It is also 10 times cheaper per launch because it can send up multiple payloads in a day.

The company has two versions of the accelerator. The suborbital (masthead), which it successfully tested on October 22, stands upright in the middle of a New Mexico desert so that test vehicles do not stray too far and do not crush anything when they come down. The suborbital launcher is for testing purposes only.

The orbital launcher is what the company is aiming at but has not built the facility yet (below). It says it is looking to construct it in an undisclosed coastal region. SpinLaunch is currently seeking approval from the FAA. Once things are in order, the startup will build the accelerator on the side of a hill to get the proper angle for orbital flight. It will be larger than the test unit to obtain higher velocity but will operate under the same principle.

Right now, current satellites would not survive a spin-launch. However, the company says that advances in electronics have produced capacitors, chips, and resistors that can withstand the tremendous G-forces generated by the centrifuge. Testing of satellite components has proven vehicles could be ruggedized to withstand a launch.

With last month's test flight under its belt, SpinLaunch is planning several more trials throughout 2022. The startup wants to study the performance of several vehicle types at various velocities and hopes to start commercial flights in late 2024.

It's worth noting that this method is not viable for launching manned vessels into space. The human body can only withstand a maximum of 9 Gs and only for a few seconds. Astronauts would be dead long before the centrifuge even reached its maximum speed.

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Uncle Al

Posts: 8,471   +7,298
Sounds like a very smart idea but, as previously stated, electronic's and their counterparts would have to be engineered to prevent their destruction AND They need to make allowances for those units that fall short of escape velocity so if they come back they either burn up in the atmosphere or fall harmlessly into an empty ocean ....
 

mrtraver

Posts: 502   +270
This will never work. For starters, 10,000G is the power not to just destroy any electronics, but to flat-squash it. In fact, the only thing they might deliver to the orbit this way, without destroying fully, is a ball of steel.

Think positive, man! :) And remember that the military has been using electronics in tank and artillery shells for years, subject to 30,000 Gs at firing.
https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.101.9472&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Granted those are shock pulses rather than sustained acceleration, but high-G ruggedization is not something that needs to be started from scratch for this.
 

VitalyT

Posts: 6,084   +6,492
Think positive, man! :) And remember that the military has been using electronics in tank and artillery shells for years, subject to 30,000 Gs at firing.
https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.101.9472&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Granted those are shock pulses rather than sustained acceleration, but high-G ruggedization is not something that needs to be started from scratch for this.
It takes a Coyote mind to feel optimistic in this, which I do not possess :)

s-l300.jpg
 

BadThad

Posts: 809   +944
Seems more suited to being a weapon, too many g's for much to survive. Mount it to a truck and sling some projectiles!
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 6,965   +5,480
This will never work. For starters, 10,000G is the power not to just destroy any electronics, but to flat-squash it. In fact, the only thing they might deliver to the orbit this way, without destroying fully, is a ball of steel.
I was thinking the same thing. Satellite, or whatever, makers will have to engineer their "spacecraft" to withstand this kind of acceleration. Conventional launch vehicles achieve what, 3G at max??
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,958   +1,144
This will never work. For starters, 10,000G is the power not to just destroy any electronics, but to flat-squash it. In fact, the only thing they might deliver to the orbit this way, without destroying fully, is a ball of steel.
You're right about those specific G-forces, but thinking about the physics for a second, you do not necessarily need to get to that level of force.

Achieve orbit requires a certain delta-v - velocity out of the 'canon' in this case. If you increase the diameter of the centrifuge, you can decrease the forces involved while maintaining the velocity required.

F = M(w^2)r

Where F is the force, M is weight, W is the angular velocity, and r is the radius of the centrifuge. If you keep M constant, an increase in the radius will result in a decrease in angular velocity to hit the same amount of force. But we don't care about force - instead, velocity. So re-arrange it like so:

W = sqrt(F/Mr)

So, if you want to maintain the velocity, but reduce the force, then either increase the mass (undesirable in a satellite) or increase the radius of the centrifuge.
 

captaincranky

Posts: 18,014   +6,823
By "stuff," we mean things that can withstand the G-force created by being spun at 5,000 miles per hour (over 10,000 Gs), which is a category of stuff that does not yet include satellites
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't orbital velocity something on the order of 18,000 Mph? So, 5K out of the chute, breaks the thing you're trying to launch, and it falls back down anyway.

Now all we have to do is breed humans that can withstand 10,000 Gs.

OK @Cal Jeffrey this is pure bullsh!t and stupidity. This "start up" is looking for money to squander or abscond with, culled from imbeciles and nincompoops with way too much money and far too little brains.

First, you can't get into orbit at less than 18,000 Mph. Second, and more importantly, whatever the launch velocity might be, due to gravity and atmospheric drag, you can only lose velocity after separation, and certainly not gain it.
 
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captaincranky

Posts: 18,014   +6,823
It's a great idea if they can get it to work because it could be 100% electric and would most likely use less juice than a mass driver:
AC7_Tyler_Island_Mass_Driver.png
Yeah right. In the mean time, would you mind bringing another tanker truck full of RP-1 to the launch pad?

As far as using it powered by electricity, the military has been screwing around with rail guns for over a decade (?). The problem there is, they require so much power to fire, nobody has figured out a way to make it portable enough to carry into battle.

Quite frankly, it's easier and faster to load a 16" shell, than to make some kind of appointment waiting for this contraption to spin up.
 

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,269   +894
Staff member
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't orbital velocity something on the order of 18,000 Mph? So, 5K out of the chute, breaks the thing you're trying to launch, and it falls back down anyway.

Now all we have to do is breed humans that can withstand 10,000 Gs.

OK @Cal Jeffrey this is pure bullsh!t and stupidity. This "start up" is looking for money to squander or abscond with, culled from imbeciles and nincompoops with way too much money and far too little brains.

First, you can't get into orbit at less than 18,000 Mph. Second, and more importantly, whatever the launch velocity might be, due to gravity and atmospheric drag, you can only lose velocity after separation, and certainly not gain it.
I don't believe that was at full power, but regardless, take it up with SpinLaunch. They're the engineers, not me. ;)

EDIT: OH also. We talking about the suborbital launcher here. The bigger orbital accelerator they want to build, they claim, will be able to achieve orbital velocity.
 
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captaincranky

Posts: 18,014   +6,823
I don't believe that was at full power, but regardless, take it up with SpinLaunch. They're the engineers, not me. ;)
Cal relax, I'm not going to "shoot the messenger".

It's just all these numbers they're spitting out, don't make any sense. If they\re quoting 10,000 Gs at a muzzle velocity of 5,000 Mph, what would they be at 18,000 Mph?

So, now we have to redo the entire electronics industry to humor this clown? I don't think so.

An SSD will allegedly tolerate maybe 2,000 Gs. But if you're willing to test that out over concrete, you've got bigger stonez than me.

As you say, "this is the sub-orbital launcher".. What I see, is "the investment opportunity", that will be promoted for the larger version.

"Well, we got this smaller one to work perfectly. We're absolutely certain this will scale, send money"..
 
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Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,269   +894
Staff member
@captaincranky Oh I know you weren't shooting the messenger, hence the wink. Yeah, I don't know enough about the physics behind it all, so can't really say one way or the other. Someone else mentioned that increasing the radius can reduce the force while maintaining the velocity, so maybe that's what they are planning IDK. I just thought it was a novel approach to getting something into space even if it was just a rock. lol
 

captaincranky

Posts: 18,014   +6,823
Someone else mentioned that increasing the radius can reduce the force while maintaining the velocity, so maybe that's what they are planning IDK. I just thought it was a novel approach to getting something into space even if it was just a rock. lol
OK, remember the space shuttle "Columbia"? It broke up after losing a couple of ceramic hear tiles.upon re-entry.. This heat is generated by hitting very thin air, going 18K Mph.

So, what about the heating factor of sea level air.. If you could launch at 18K Mph, would the projectile leave fast enough to not allow time for heating?. Would you have to spin this up in a completer vacuum, so as not to burn the object up bringing it to speed?

Having to deal with air is a b!tch. Drag squares in relation to speed doubling. (The inverse square law rears it's ugly head in so many places).

The reality is, if you want to launch an object into orbit by initial impact, you're going to have to launch it a well over the 18K number.
 

Vulcanproject

Posts: 1,481   +2,660
It's one thing throwing a lump of nothing high into the atmosphere and another sending a useful load into Earth orbit. Very different.

This is essentially a first stage only on Earth if orbit is the actual goal. A second stage on board the projectile would have to take over. Never be able to reach escape velocity or even possibly guide the thing into a controllable orbit without that.

Probably work pretty great on the moon or Mars though.