Watching a carbon-composite aeroshell fly at Mach 3 after spinning up in an evacuated centrifuge is nothing short of phenomenal. Even more impressive is that Jonathan and his team at SpinLaunch built the scaled prototype with less than four million dollars.
Most space launch systems (a.k.a. rockets) start with zero kinetic energy on the Earth’s surface and a whole bunch of fuel. Fuel accounts for more than 90% of a traditional rocket’s mass. Igniting a rocket is the beginning of an energy conversion process which turns chemical energy into the kinetic energy needed to insert the payload into orbit. More massive payloads require more fuel, but more fuel just adds to the rocket’s total mass. This classic case of diminishing returns is well understood in the aerospace world as The Rocket Equation. Instead of working within these constraints, what if we could start with an enormous amount of kinetic energy?
That’s exactly what SpinLaunch aims to do. By building up kinetic energy on Earth in a huge centrifuge and then slinging a much smaller, cheaper, and simpler rocket into the sky to finish the job, SpinLaunch will send a small satellite into orbit for less than $500K — a small fraction of the cost of traditional rocket launches. Not only is it cheaper, but a single SpinLaunch system can be reset in less than two hours, enabling deployment of large constellations of small satellites in a matter of days, with each individually inserted into its desired orbit.
This is how space will become democratized. SpinLaunch is building a disruptive launch technology starting from first principles that will be a key enabling ingredient to this future reality. With a SpinLaunch system, small satellites will no longer have to hitchhike to space on big rockets with primary missions, and instead will have a dedicated launch system tailored to their needs. But why should we care? What’s so special about flexible, low-cost access to space?
Access to space is becoming existential to the human condition. Real-time remote sensing on a global scale helps keep the peace by exposing bad actors and providing transparency in movements of weapons and materials. Weather satellites and climate sensors provide an increasingly precise view of the health of our planet. Communications satellites are the backbone of future worldwide data networks with minimal infrastructure requirements on the ground. Imaging satellites provide views of a living Earth that are useful for mapping, surveying, inspection, change detection, urban planning, agriculture, and more. More than 200 different satellite constellations have been proposed per this FCC Fact Sheet on small satellite licensing, and we believe SpinLaunch is well positioned to lead the charge on many of these use cases.
Catapult Ventures is proud to be an investor in SpinLaunch’s journey to invent the ultimate space catapult.