FORGET RODS OF GOD: HERE’S THE WIND-UP, AND THE PITCH…
No, I'm not talking about baseball. I'm talking about an article J.B. spotted and sent to me, and a couple of days after it was sent, many other regular readers and contributors here spotted the same story, so thanks to all of you who did send it.
Anyway, back to me not talking about baseball. What made me Sit Up and Take Notice about this story is my strong suspicion that it's about a lot more than... well, what it is about. What it's about is this:
And here's the gist:
AU.S. space launch start-up has, for the first time, demonstrated a kinetic-based system that’s intended one day to put small spacecraft into orbit. The SpinLaunch concept, which feels ripped right from the classic age of science fiction, is based around a vacuum-sealed centrifuge that spins an unpowered projectile at several times the speed of sound before releasing it, hurling it into the upper atmosphere, and ultimately into orbit. In this way, the company, based in Long Beach, Calif., hopes to challenge traditional rockets for putting payloads into space.
The first test flight of a prototype — a so-called suborbital accelerator — took place at Spaceport America in New Mexico on October 22, but the company only announced the milestone yesterday.
The system uses a vacuum chamber within which a rotating arm brings a projectile up to very high speed without any drag penalty, before hurling it into the atmosphere “in less than a millisecond,” according to the company, as a port opens for a fraction of a second to release the projectile. A counterbalance spins in the opposite direction to prevent the system from becoming unbalanced. The vacuum seal stays in place until the projectile breaks through a membrane at the top of the launch tube.
The article goes on to note the military's interest in alternative means of launching small satellites into orbit, and obviously, this method is completely impractical for launching a manned capsule; the G's alone of spinning up a projectile to literally throw it into space would kill a human long before it reached a sufficient velocity to be thrown into space.
And that's my problem here, because the word "projectile" isn't mine, it's the article's.
In short, we're looking at ...well... artillery, though of a very unconventional sort. Unconventional artillery has been around for a long long time. The first electro-magnetic "rail guns" were actually conceived (and experimented with) prior to World War One. But this system intrigues: it's not a "rod of God" system except in its use of sheer kinetic energy. It's more like a "baseball of God" technology. It's that artillery aspect that disturbs here, because with a little adjustment of the release chamber - shown pointing straight up in the pictures in the article - one could launch the "projectile" on a standard ballistic trajectory or alternatively, with the right electronic packages inside of it, guide it to a remote target and destroy it through sheer kinetic energy. Indeed, I can't help but think that perhaps we're looking at one of the technologies that was behind the announcement of the US Army a couple of years ago that it is designing a super-long range "cannon". This would certainly fit the bill if the technology can be made to work reliably. Perhaps the technology could even be miniaturized and put into orbit as an anti-satellite kinetic weapon or - here it comes - an anti-asteroid weapon, either ground-based or space based.
So you can color me "extremely suspicious" on this one; this is about more than just an interesting way to launch small satellites into orbit cheaply, for as I said, the word "projectile" isn't mine, it's the article's.
See you on the flip side...
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