The US start-up SpinLaunch used its suborbital accelerator catapult in a tenth test to throw instruments from the US space agency NASA and the aircraft manufacturer Airbus about 7600 m into the air, the company announced on Monday. The experiment, in which foreign cargo was taken along for the first time, is intended to show the effects that acceleration forces of up to 10,000 G can have on the sensitive devices. With the catapult, SpinLaunch intends to launch satellites into orbit in an environmentally friendly way with little rocket technology in the future.
On board the SpinLaunch projectile capsule during the test flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico were instruments from NASA and Airbus as well as satellite parts from Cornell University and satellite manufacturer Outpost. NASA, which formed a strategic partnership with SpinLaunch earlier this year, contributed a data acquisition unit. The instrument includes two accelerometers, a gyroscope, magnetometer, pressure, temperature and humidity sensors. NASA wants to use them to determine which forces and accelerations act during the launch in order to be able to draw conclusions for later payloads.
Airbus’ military arm, Airbus US Space & Defense, tested a satellite sun sensor that survived around 10,000 Gs at launch and was unaffected. The experiment was intended to show that even sensitive components for satellite systems can withstand the high acceleration forces.
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Cornell University’s Space Systems Design Studio (SSDS) tested a payload deployment system from its ChipSats microsatellites on the flight. They will later descend in large numbers from orbit through the atmosphere of Earth and other planets, collecting data at different locations.
Bringing satellites into orbit in an environmentally friendly way
SpinLaunch’s suborbital accelerator catapult, measuring around 33 meters in diameter, has been in development since 2015. It is currently an experimental model. The final accelerator will have a diameter of around 100 m and according to current plans it should go into operation around 2026.
The functional principle of the catapult is quite simple: In a vacuum chamber, the projectile capsule is made to rotate at a speed of around 8000 km/h via a carbon fiber arm. Then the projectile capsule is catapulted vertically outwards into the air via a flap. In the current tenth test, the projectile reached a height of 7,600 m.
SpinLaunch plans to use a fully developed suborbital accelerator catapult to launch satellites weighing up to 200 kg into the upper atmosphere by 2026. In order for this to succeed, the projectile capsule then needs an additional rocket stage that offers further thrust. Overall, less fuel is consumed than with purely rocket-powered systems. SpinLaunch therefore sees the system as an environmentally friendly alternative.
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