WASHINGTON — SpinLaunch, a startup pursuing an alternative approach for placing payloads into orbit, has raised $35 million in a new funding round disclosed Jan. 16.
The company, headquartered in Long Beach, California, said the new round featured several funds that included Airbus Ventures, the venture capital arm of aerospace company Airbus. Other investors include venture capital funds GV, KPCB, Catapult Ventures and Lauder Partners, as well as John Doerr and Byers Family.
With this new funding round, the company has now raised $80 million, it said. SpinLaunch previously announced a $40 million round in June 2018.
In a statement announcing the round, Jonathan Yaney, founder and chief executive of SpinLaunch, thanked “the continued support of this formidable syndicate of investors, who share our vision of enabling low-cost and frequent launch of imaging and communications constellations that will protect our planet and humanity.”
The company has offered few details about how it will achieve that vision of low-cost and frequent launch. In its statement, SpinLaunch says it is developing “a large mass accelerator to provide on demand launches of small satellites in virtually any weather at an order of magnitude lower cost and higher frequency than any existing or proposed launch system.”
SpinLaunch, though, has shared few technical details about how such a system would work and how it would address issues such as the high accelerations it would likely impose on payloads and aerodynamic stresses once the payload is released from the accelerator at hypersonic speeds.
The company’s website offers no details other than a link to an employment section, with about two dozen job openings. “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,” reads the description for one such job opening, for a senior aerodynamics and hypersonics engineer.
In June 2019, SpinLaunch received an other transaction authority (OTA) award from the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit to examine how to use the company’s services for the responsive launch of satellites. At the time, the company said expected to be able to launch five times per day for $250,000 per launch, but did not disclose how large the payloads would be or other details.
SpinLaunch is developing a test facility at Spaceport America in New Mexico expected to cost $7 million to develop, according to a May 2019 press release by the spaceport. Part of the new round of funding will go towards completing that facility this year, the company said.
“Later this year, we aim to change the history of space launch with the completion of our first flight test mass accelerator at Spaceport America,” Yaney said in the statement.
Even if the system can demonstrate its technical capabilities, it may face regulatory obstacles given that the current commercial launch licensing regime is used to dealing with conventional rockets using chemical propulsion.
Wayne Monteith, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, acknowledged that potential problem in an October speech at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in New Mexico. “Should SpinLaunch be regulated?” he asked. “Probably, but how?”