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Rocket company develops massive catapult to launch satellites into space without using jet fuel: '10,000 times the force of Earth's gravity'

If this concept proves reliable, it could eliminate the loads of fuel that is burned to launch spacecraft.

If this concept proves reliable, it could eliminate the loads of fuel that is burned to launch spacecraft.

Photo Credit: SpinLaunch

A California company has tech that will likely draw attention from the Punkin Chunkin community. 

That's because SpinLaunch is developing a large rotating arm that uses kinetic energy to fling 440-pound satellites into low orbit, with successful tests already in the books. Importantly, the process doesn't need rocket fuel to work. It's all powered by electricity. 

"This is not a rocket, and clearly our ability to perform in just 11 months this many tests and have them all function as planned, really is a testament to the nature of our technology," founder and CEO Jonathan Yaney said in a Space.com report from 2022, shortly after a 10th successful launch. The goal is to shoot constellations of satellites skyward — under 600 miles up — by 2026, per the report. 

Satellites are used by scientists to monitor our planet's health from above, identifying polluting methane leaks, among other research. So a cleaner way to put them in the sky is exciting science.

Kinetic energy has been used by humans for centuries via trebuchets and siege machines during war, hurling heavy objects great distances. Pumpkin chucking, commonly called Punkin Chunkin, contests remain a popular way to teach kinetic and potential energy physics with similar human-made machines. 

SpinLaunch's contraption will likely have some of the chuckers wondering how many pumpkins they could put in orbit, if given the chance. 

The invention looks like a giant upright disc with a cylindrical barrel pointed upward. A 108-foot-long rotating arm spins at 5,000 miles per hour to achieve the best fling, Space.com and the company report. The vehicle travels at up to six times the speed of sound. 

The company credits low-cost, high-strength modern carbon fiber and miniature electronics as key components behind the innovation. 

"Modern electronics, materials, and simulation tools allow for satellites to be adapted to the kinetic launch environment with relative ease," the company states on its website. The technology must withstand a vacuum, in addition to very fast acceleration. 

A video clip shared by the company shows the buildup as a test launch is about to happen at its New Mexico site. Experts are seen monitoring screens while others sit in control areas, akin to a NASA scene. When the craft exits the barrel, there's no exhaust to track it. If you blink, you will miss it entirely. 

SpinLaunch was founded in 2014, and its leadership team has since raised tens of millions of dollars in funding. The company has been working with NASA, Airbus, and Cornell University, launching some of their equipment as part of testing. The tech has so far endured 10,000 Gs, "10,000 times the force of Earth's gravity," all per the Space.com report. 

If SpinLaunch's concept proves reliable, it could eliminate the loads of fuel that is burned to launch spacecraft. In 2016, Business Insider noted that SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket used more than 900,000 pounds of propellant for each liftoff, for reference. The fuel efficiency may have improved some since then. 

CBC News reports that a growing number of launches are starting to draw scrutiny, particularly for ozone layer health. The barrier protects us from some of the sun's harmful radiation. 

SpinLaunch can surpass the ozone layer without harming it. Next up for the company is creating a coastal orbital launch site geared to build upon its early success. 

"It has proven that it's a system that is repeatedly reliable," Yaney said in the Space.com story. 

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