Secretive Startup SpinLaunch Gets 1st Launch Contract for US Military

The space startup SpinLaunch has secured its first launch contract, a prototype flight for the U.S. Department of Defense.
(Image credit: SpinLaunch)

The secretive startup SpinLaunch, which aims to fling satellites into space without a traditional launch pad, has just secured its first launch contract. 

In a statement today (June 19), SpinLaunch announced that it has received a "launch prototype contract" from the U.S. Department of Defense under a deal arranged by the Defense Innovation Unit. The Long Beach, California-based company aims to launch its first test flights in early 2020 from Spaceport America in New Mexico. 

SpinLaunch is developing a "kinetic energy-based launch system" that accelerates a small payload-carrying booster to hypersonic speeds with a spinning system on the ground. A chemical rocket would kick in once the payload has been launched from the ground system. 

An illustration released with the announcement depicted a SpinLaunch booster attached to the arm of what appeared to be a centrifuge.  

Related: Take a Tour of Spaceport America (Photos)

"SpinLaunch is reimagining space launch by revisiting fundamental physics and leveraging proven industrial technologies to create a system that accelerates the launch vehicle to hypersonic speeds using ground-based energy," SpinLaunch representatives wrote in today's announcement. "Applying the initial performance boost from a terrestrial-based launch platform will enable the company to provide a substantially lower cost launch to orbit, multiple times per day, with no negative impact on our environment."

Entrepreneur Jonathan Yaney founded SpinLaunch in 2014 with the goal of developing a low-cost launch system. The company has said in the past that it hopes to be able to launch small payloads up to five times a day for $250,000 per flight. 

In the statement today, Yaney said SpinLaunch would fill the gap between "bulk" carrying commercial launch vehicles (which carry many satellites at once) and "niche" services that are aimed at a specific orbit. 

"SpinLaunch fills this gap by providing dedicated orbital launch with high frequency at a magnitude lower cost than any current 'niche' launch system," Yaney said. "This will truly be a disruptive enabler for the emerging commercial space industry. There is a promising market surge in the demand for LEO constellations of inexpensive small satellites for disaster monitoring, weather, reconnaissance, communications and other services."

SpinLaunch received $40 million in Series A investment in 2018, with some funding provided by Airbus Ventures, GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Kleiner Perkins. In May 2019, the company broke ground on a $7 million launch site at Spaceport America

After a series of test flights in 2020, SpinLaunch aims to begin commercial launch operations in 2022, the company has said.  

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.