SpinLaunch expands New Mexico test site

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WASHINGTON — SpinLaunch expects to perform the first suborbital tests of a prototype of its centrifugal system for launching small satellites later this year from New Mexico.

The company, based in Long Beach, California, has said little about its efforts to develop a mass accelerator that would, in effect, serve as the first stage of a smallsat launch system, an approach the company argues will allow it to launch payloads at lower costs and higher frequencies than traditional launch vehicles. It has raised $80 million to date, including a $35 million round a year ago.

While SpinLaunch has offered few details about its technology, it did announce Dec. 15 that it is expanding its operations at Spaceport America in New Mexico. In a joint statement with the state’s Economic Development Department, SpinLaunch said it planned to hire 59 more people at the site “and complete the build of its suborbital centrifugal launch system for its next phase of development.”

SpinLaunch stated it expected to spend $46 million for construction and expansion activities at the spaceport over the next 10 years. In return, the company will be eligible for $4 million in state grants, as well as job training assistance.

“When you’re this young of a company, with this bold of a concept, being able to receive assistance is absolutely essential,” Jonathan Yaney, founder of SpinLaunch, said in the statement. “This support was instrumental in deciding to come to New Mexico.”

SpinLaunch broke ground in May 2019 on the test site at the spaceport, pledging to spend $7 million and create 20 jobs there. The company said little about what it would do there other than the site being its “first flight test site.”

At a presentation last month during a meeting of the board of directors of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, Scott McLaughlin, acting executive director of Spaceport America, said the company is building an evacuated centrifuge 30 meters in diameter. That will be able to accelerate objects to Mach 5 before “catapulting” it out a door.

The facility is intended for use in suborbital tests, which McLaughlin said will be done in cooperation with nearby White Sands Missile Range. Objects launched from the centrifuge will go to an altitude of about 100 kilometers before landing at White Sands. Those tests will begin some time in 2021, he said, the same time frame the company stated in the announcement of its expansion there.

SpinLaunch did not disclose in the announcement about the expansion at the spaceport how many people are currently working there, but McLaughlin said about 30 to 40 people are on site there. The facility is in a part of Spaceport America called the Advanced Technology Area, a remote location far from the runway and terminal building used by anchor tenant Virgin Galactic. The site runs on generator power, he said, with no plans in the near term for infrastructure improvements there.

A SpinLaunch job opening for the New Mexico site notes that a crew of about 30 to 45 people works there. Those employees are provided housing, meals and other amenities.

“You will help change the landscape of the smallsat industry, be an integral and unique part of a close-knit team of individuals operating in a high energy environment, changing the fundamental fabric of how humanity puts things into space,” states the job opening, for a cook at the site.