catapult to space

It is a “simple” process, conceived a long time ago, but it has reached maturity. NASA will test it with the aim of launching low-cost satellites, but also, perhaps, with the aim of accelerating space exploration.

When we all ride bikes, the traffic jams won’t be on the roads but in the sky. and beyond. In the next ten years, tens of thousands of satellites are expected to be launched into space. Starlink alone, Elon Musk’s network, will feature 12,000! However, getting away from the terrestrial attractions is very expensive: 5,000 to 6,000 euros per kilogram on average.

SpaceX has revolutionized the sector and reduced costs by building a reusable rocket. California’s SpinLaunch wants to do better with the catapult principle. Inside an electric centrifuge (which will eventually have a circumference of about a kilometer), the payload is accelerated using a carbon-fiber rotating arm to supersonic speeds. Several times the speed of sound before it was tossed into the sky by a pitching tube. Once out of the atmosphere and with great gravity, the engine would take care of carrying the satellite toward its final orbit, but with a tiny amount of fuel, compared to what would have been necessary to deploy it to send it. release. Thanks to this process, almost two-thirds of the mass of the multi-stage rocket is saved.

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The savings made can accelerate the conquest of space

Last October, the first test proved to be particularly decisive, sending a projectile at an altitude of 9 km at a speed of 1600 km / h. With only 20% of machine capacity manufactured by SpinLaunch. The first success this year convinced NASA to participate in the startup’s development efforts, by commissioning it to run a test. In order to better study how to protect satellites that will be launched in the future. Knowing that inside the centrifuge they will have to undergo an acceleration of up to 10,000 g. Complex for measuring instruments adjusted with accuracy down to a micron.

Read also. France joins NASA’s lunar exploration program

Because splitting launch costs (by 20, SpinLaunch estimates) will be of fundamental importance to space exploration. In addition to the ever-increasing needs for satellites, the upcoming construction of a type of International Space Station that will travel between Earth and the Moon (the Moon Gate) and the installation of a permanent base on the accompanying star will require hundreds of launches. . If the catapult method proves to be as simple as it is effective, the savings made could hasten the conquest of space. The icing on the cake, this type of launch has environmental advantages. When you learn that in the first fifteen minutes of take-off a rocket burns more than 3.5 million liters of fuel …

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