The US Department of Defense (DOD) has awarded the stealth launch services startup SpinLaunch with its first launch contract. The company plans to deploy payloads into orbit utilising a “kinetic energy-based launch system.”
SpinLaunch has secured a DOD responsive launch prototype contract awarding an as of yet undisclosed amount. The process was facilitated by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a government entity that funds companies seeking to “solve national security problems.”
The small-payload launch market has ballooned with competition over the last 5 years. SpinLaunch hopes to differentiate itself by offering dedicated launch services at a fraction of the cost of the nearest competitor. Once operational, the company has claimed it plans to offer up to five launches per day at a price of $250,000 a launch. Currently, the next most affordable dedicated ride into space would likely be the Rocket Lab Electron rocket at a cost of around $6 million.
“SpinLaunch fills this gap by providing dedicated orbital launch with high frequency at a magnitude lower cost than any current ‘niche’ launch system,” stated Jonathan Yaney, founder and CEO of SpinLaunch. “This will truly be a disruptive enabler for the emerging commercial space industry.”
Although the SpinLaunch model appears promising, there are drawbacks and limitations to what the company describes as a “kinetic energy-based launch system.” No specifics of the system have been released as of yet but from the name, one can glean that it will likely utilise electromagnetic force or centrifugal force to attain the altitude and velocity required to reach orbit. These systems generally exert a great deal of force on payloads, which precludes any payloads carrying sensitive instruments.
Despite the challenges, SpinLaunch has managed to attract $40 million in Series A funding from the likes of Airbus Ventures, Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins. The company hopes to begin testing in 2020 and plans to launch its first payload by 2022.