SpinLaunch, a Long Beach-based space technology development company, has announced another successful test flight of its innovative small satellite launch system.
The firm’s Suborbital Accelerator hurled the 10-foot-long test vehicle into the atmosphere at over 1,000 mph from Spaceport America, New Mexico. The vehicle was carrying six payloads, including four partner payloads and two instrumentation payloads, according to Monday’s announcement.
For the first time, the test was observed by more than 150 partners, government officials and industry advocates.
“The data and insights collected from flight tests will be invaluable for both SpinLaunch, as we further the development of the Orbital Launch system, and for our customers who are looking to us to provide them with low-cost, high-cadence, sustainable access to space,” founder and CEO Jonathan Yaney said in a statement.
The flight, which launched on Sept. 27, was the 10th test in less than 11 months, according to the announcement.
The mission demonstrated that standard satellite components are “inherently compatible” with the company’s launch environment and provided flight data, with all payloads being successfully recovered.
Prior to the test, SpinLaunch accelerated the payloads up to 10,000G in the firm’s 12-meter Lab Accelerator at its Long Beach headquarters. Payloads were then inspected and integrated into the test vehicle for the test launch.
The four partner payloads were provided by NASA, Airbus U.S. Space & Defense, Inc., Cornell Engineering and Outpost.
NASA’s data acquisition unit captured launch characteristics of the kinetic launch system that the space agency will use to determine the potential of future commercial launch opportunities. The test also gave NASA insight into the payload integration and testing procedures.
Airbus U.S., a leading provider of satellite systems, provided its satellite sun sensor for the test, which is typically used for spacecraft attitude control and positioning purposes. The sensor’s performance and operation was not affected by the pre-launch testing or the flight, according to the announcement.
The two companies plan to work together to qualify a variety of Airbus U.S. satellite systems that are compatible with the SpinLaunch system.
Cornell Engineering’s Space Systems Design Studio provided multiple of its small, inexpensive ChipSats to the test mission, which were successfully released from the launch vehicle.
“Centimeter-scale spacecraft will be a critical tool in future planetary science missions,” Hunter Adams, a lecturer in Cornell Engineering’s school of electrical and computer engineering, said in a statement. Adams added that, deployed en masse, ChipSats will descend through a planet’s atmosphere to its surface gathering data as they fall.
“To plan these missions, we must understand the chaotic trajectories that low-mass and high-surface area objects take from the top of the atmosphere to the surface of the planet,” Adams said. “By conducting experiments with SpinLaunch’s Suborbital Accelerator, we can gather critical information for planning future planetary science missions involving ChipSats. It is absolutely a game-changer for centimeter-scale spacecraft research.”
Reusable satellite developer Outpost provided an onboard computer for testing and qualification in the SpinLaunch system. The pre-launch and flight tests demonstrated that the flight computer is compatible with the SpinLaunch system.
“Outpost and SpinLaunch share the same mission of providing customers with low-cost, rapid launch—which means rethinking the way we access space,” said Michael Vergalla, co-founder and CTO at Outpost. “Testing our hardware with SpinLaunch’s mass accelerator gives us optionality and provides valuable engineering data for developing our hardware to be compatible with their launch system and unlock the upside of low-cost and high-cadence launch.”
The test flight took place one week after the company announced it had acquired $71 million in financing from various investors for the further development of its unique launch system.
The Suborbital Accelerator is a scaled-down version of the firm’s Orbital Accelerator, which will slingshot payloads into space using kinetic energy rather than liquid fuels. Once in space, a small rocket would ignite to get payloads into their desired orbits.
The full-sized launch system will feature a centrifuge that is 300 feet in diameter, in which launch vehicles will reach speeds of nearly 5,000 mph before they are released. The system would result in a four-time reduction in fuel needed to reach orbit and a 10-times reduction in cost, according to the company.
SpinLaunch is expected to begin running missions for customers in 2025.