Wisconsin Geospatial News

Using Kinetic Energy to Place Satellites in Orbit

There has been a lot of news lately about the activities of commercial space companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. The former, Elon Musk’s company, gained notoriety by launching a Tesla Roadster into space. The car and its mannequin driver are now heading toward Mars at a speed of 13,000 miles per hour according to the WhereIsRoadster website. Blue Origin, founded Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, has made headlines by launching celebrities on sub-orbital trips, including 90-year-old William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk on the original 1960s Star Trek TV series.

But these are only the most well-known of these companies. Other lesser-knowns include Relativity, which uses 3D printing to print rocket components more quickly and at lower cost, and Planet, whose satellite constellation includes flocks of “Doves” weighing less than 10 pounds. For $20,000 ThumbSat will even launch your personal soda-can sized satellite into space.

To add to this collection of science qua science-fiction comes news of a startup that plans to launch satellites into space using kinetic energy. The company, SpinLaunch, has successfully tested a sub-orbital launch and plans to have an orbital launcher ready to place satellites in orbit by 2025. To fully understand the launch system, you should watch the company’s promotional video. The rocket and payload, tucked inside an aerodynamic chassis, spin in an airtight chamber to a speed of 5000 miles per hour before being ejected into the atmosphere. Once the launch vehicle reaches the required altitude, the chassis falls away and the rocket engine takes over, putting the payload into orbit. This approach is less expensive than traditional launch vehicles, saves thousands of gallons of rocket fuel, and allows for multiple launches per day.

It’s hard to predict which of these companies, among others, will be successful in the endeavor to commercialize space. But one thing you can be sure of is that even more innovations and ideas are on the horizon…like building satellites out of wood.