Scientists have found an alternative way to launch rockets into space — by catapulting them out of the Earth’s atmosphere like a slingshot. It may seem like a “far-fetched sci-fi movie,” but it’s hardly fictional anymore.
“It’s a radically different way to accelerate projectiles and launch vehicles to hypersonic speeds using a ground-based system,” Jonathan Yaney, CEO of SpinLaunch, a California-based spaceflight technology company that has been involved in the development of the system, told CNBC. According to its website, the company aims to build “the world’s lowest-cost space launch system.”
The idea behind developing the model is to make space exploration environmentally sustainable and cheaper — especially at a juncture when space travel is on the rise.
Data by Euroconsult suggests that 990 satellites will be launched every year in this decade — a four-fold increase from the previous decade. Last October, the Bank of America predicted that the space economy will more than triple in size in the next decade.
“By mid-century, things will progress further. More nations will join the “space club,” more space agencies will send astronauts to space… Commercial entities will establish a permanent presence and will pursue many new kinds of space-related ventures…,” Matthew S. Williams, a professional science writer and a science fiction author from Vancouver, wrote earlier this year. Scientists
“By 2050, commercial space travel, space tourism, orbital space stations, and lunar habitats are likely to become a reality,” he added.
Related on The Swaddle:
Japanese Scientists Are Developing Wooden Satellites To Minimize Future Space Junk
As exciting as the prospect might sound, it comes with rather large environmental repercussions since rockets require a huge amount of propellants to help them overcome gravity and make their way out of the Earth’s atmosphere. “The burning of these propellants provides the necessary energy required for rocket launches… But in doing so, [they] emit a host of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, air pollutants, water, chlorine, and other chemicals,” Saumya Kalia wrote in The Swaddle.
“For one long-haul plane flight, it’s one to three tons of carbon dioxide,” Eloise Marais, an associate professor of physical geography at University College London, told The Guardian, comparing it with the amount of carbon dioxide required for one rocket launch — which is 200-300 tonnes.
The “slingshot”-rocket model isn’t plagued by nearly the same degree of environmental concerns. Instead of fuel-based propellants, this model uses kinetic energy to get rockets off the ground. They are “building a massive centrifuge to accelerate rockets and send them screaming into space,” Wired reported.
Moreover, vehicles launched in this manner are also expected to support greater weight since they don’t have to account for accommodating huge amounts of rocket fuel in the vehicles.
Yaney believes that by flipping the “[traditional] rocket equation” on its head, they could “dramatic[ally]” reduce the size of the rocket — in addition to bringing down costs, as well as the complexity of the process.
In fact, quite recently, the company SpinLaunch also conducted the first launch test for its new model, and it turned out to be a success.
“So far everything seems legit,” Rhett Allain, a physicist and author had noted, adding that “you shouldn’t build this in your backyard or anything, but from an engineering standpoint it looks possible.”