Silicon Valley builds a giant catapult to throw satellites into space


A giant catapult built by the startup SpinLaunch should reduce the fuel consumption of satellite launches and their environmental impact.

The catapult looks like a giant upright disc with a cylindrical barrel pointed upward. A 108-foot-long rotating arm spins 5,000 miles per hour to throw small satellites into space.

California-based startup SpinLaunch plans to use its tech to lift satellites into low Earth orbit by 2026. SpinLaunch’s Suborbital Launch Site is located at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

SpinLaunch
Source: SpinLaunch

According to the company’s website, the first Orbital Launch Site is in final selection in a soon-to-be-disclosed location in a coastal region of the United States.

Founded in 2014, SpinLaunch achieved its first successful suborbital flight in 2021. In 2022, the company's Suborbital Accelerator system launched its flight vehicle on a brief suborbital mission.

The growing demand for satellite technology also raises concerns about how the devices might affect the environment. According to reports, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket consumes over 900,000 pounds of propellant for each liftoff.

Also, research shows that reentering satellites can cause significant ozone depletion in the long term, likely resulting in higher UV radiation on Earth.

Starlink’s constellation already consists of over 6,000 Starlink satellites. In total, there are just over 10,000 satellites in orbit, making Elon Musk’s SpaceX the biggest player in the satellite industry.

SpinLaunch
Source: SpinLaunch

Space garbage is a thing

While a catapult might optimize the satellite launch process in a more environmentally friendly way, the space debris problem caused by old satellites flooding the orbit remains.

A study indicates that the accumulation of satellite debris could eventually create Saturn-like rings around Earth, composed entirely of space junk.

This debris poses a significant risk to Earth's population, potentially causing injuries and destruction. In November 2023, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned that falling debris from SpaceX's Starlink satellites could injure or kill a person every two years and might even down an aircraft.

In March 2024, a part of a space cargo pallet hit Florida. NASA had expected the Earth’s atmosphere to burn the garbage, but it survived and hit a residential area, causing damage.

Kyoto University in Japan has addressed the garbage challenge by creating the world’s first wooden satellite made of magnolia wood. The satellite will travel to space on a SpaceX rocket in September.

Wooden satellites should burn completely before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, leaving traces of only biodegradable ashes.