NASA wants to put hardware into orbit with the Mega Space Slingshot

NASA has signed a joint venture agreement with Spinlanch, which is developing a revolutionary accelerator based on centrifugal force.

Last November, we told you SpinLaunch, A company that wants to use centrifugal force to make it easier to put small payloads into orbit. Apparently, this concept really impressed NASA; So is the American Space Agency Made a joint venture agreement with the company. Together they will now test the reliability of an organization in the context of some routine operations, especially those targeting low orbit.

Theoretically, the idea of ​​SpinLaunch is surprisingly simple. Controlling the payload into orbit is the first step in the Suborbital Accelerator Launch System (SALS). It is a large circular vacuum chamber that acts as an accelerator enclave.

A real space slingshot

Once inside, the assembly rotates on an axis. Thanks to the vacuum that rules the room, the engine can accelerate to individual speeds with complete silence without having to resist the friction created by gaseous molecules in the atmosphere.

Once it has finally reached sufficient speed, the load is disconnected from the axle; Due to all the kinetic energy accumulated in the first stage, the craft is seen to be disconnected at exorbitant speeds through the chimney – Like a pebble thrown by a slingshot. The only difference is that this material goes much higher and faster. According to SpinLaunch, the projectile can theoretically exceed 8000 km / h without any problems.

This concept may seem strange, but it is not straight from science fiction. In October 2021 Spin Launch proved this during the most stunning concept. With its A-33 prototype, it was able to send a 3 meter long projectile to an altitude of several kilometers by accelerating at speeds in excess of 1600 km / h. Force alone. The engine runs only 20% of its capacity!

Suffice it to say that the SpinLaunch accelerators have a little more reserve… yet this is just the beginning. The current enclave is already impressive with its 33 meter diameter. However, she’s so ridiculous compared to the monster SpinLaunch plans to assemble. The purpose is to create a SALS that is almost three times larger, with a diameter of 90 meters. She can send even heavier objects even higher.

Limit departure-related barriers

However, under real conditions, these SALS will not automatically suffice. Its role is to accelerate a machine to bring it closer to the boundaries of space. This is far from a significant contribution; Making it possible will greatly simplify placing in orbitAvoid major logistics restrictions related to departure.

In fact, to put a machine in orbit, it must meet two criteria; It has to follow the right path, but above all it has to travel in a Very high speed and very accurate. He can achieve an almost perfect balance between the forces that move an object from the earth and the gravitational forces that bring it closer; Then we talk about orbit.

To allow an object to reach this speed, it is necessary to send a certain amount of energy directly dependent on its mass (see comment Delta-V For more details). Typically, the rocket takes care of itself using a rocket engine.

But mountaineers are well aware that rockets pose a problem. To go far, one must carry a backpack full of resources; But it can be very heavy, especially at the beginning of the journey. And it can be tiring.

The same goes for the rocket; You can “carry” the heart of the vehicle, but also carry all the fuel needed to get on board. And it weighs more; For example, these fuels represent up to 91% of the total weight of the Russian Soyuz rocket!

In practice, most of the fuel is not used to trigger the pilot, but rather the remaining fuel used during the ascent. Also, when the vehicle is close to the ground it will inevitably struggle even more to overcome the gravitational pull of the downward pull; Starting from a point close to sea level, the power of the system should increase.

A clean, very economical and logically very interesting system

So the challenge is to control the amount of energy the vehicle needs to produce and extend the amount of fuel it carries. And precisely what these SALS are for. First, there is no need to rapidly increase the amount of fuel to carry the remaining tank.

It has many obvious advantages in terms of logistics, operating costs and (perhaps) the environment. Thanks to the enormous acceleration provided by SALS, it is possible to reduce the amount of fuel required to launch the spinlaunch. More than 70%. There may even be a total release cost Divided by ten.

In addition, relies on a SALS Electric motor. Therefore, it helps to avoid the stage of filling the tanks and to carry out a large number of launches at relatively short intervals. SpinLaunch is therefore positioned as a clean, economical system and is well suited for routine operations in low Earth orbit.

Future standard for low orbit operations?

But this system is not out of control. First and foremost, during this initial acceleration phase the engine was subjected to absolutely enormous forces. This means that in the absence of a revolutionary solution, our poor human body will soon be reduced to a bloody mystery. SALS will therefore be assigned to payloads capable of absorption Ten grams.

Despite these limitations, NASA still considers this to be the most interesting way in the current context in which access to space is becoming more democratic at full speed. In fact, it is clear that these regular releases will continue more and more frequently. It is therefore urgent to develop more suitable missile systems than the traditional rocket engine; And the SpinLaunch program is one of the most promising ways at this level.

So it would be very interesting to follow the progress of this collaboration. If it happens correctly, we can gradually see a real paradigm shift on the side of light missiles. RocketLab, the current expert in light load launches, be careful!

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