NASA will soon take a unique launch system out for a spin.
The agency has signed on to send a payload up using a suborbital, kinetic-energy based system developed by California-based company SpinLaunch. The test flight, which is expected later this year, will "provide valuable information to NASA for potential future commercial launch opportunities," SpinLaunch representatives said in an emailed statement.
The newly revealed Space Act Agreement is part of NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, which helps demonstrate technologies that could aid the agency's science and exploration portfolios down the road and spur the growth of the private spaceflight industry.
SpinLaunch aims to help power that growth with its novel launch strategy. That strategy involves accelerating rockets to tremendous speeds here on terra firma using a rotating arm and then flinging them skyward. The launch vehicles will light up their engines when they're already high in the sky, greatly reducing the amount of fuel and hardware — and, by extension, money — needed to reach orbit.
The new agreement with NASA is an important milestone in SpinLaunch's journey, said company founder and CEO Jonathan Yaney.
"SpinLaunch is offering a unique suborbital flight and high-speed testing service, and the recent launch agreement with NASA marks a key inflection point as SpinLaunch shifts focus from technology development to commercial offerings," Yaney said in the same emailed statement.
"What started as an innovative idea to make space more accessible has materialized into a technically mature and game-changing approach to launch," he added. "We look forward to announcing more partners and customers soon and greatly appreciate NASA's continued interest and support in SpinLaunch."
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.