Pangaea 263: Throwing Satellites into Orbit (Literally)

Jon Cole

Here is the latest way to get satellites into orbit. 

Admit it. We all thought this was possible when we studied physics in school. 

Jon Cole, N0OFJ 

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          xyHt  | Pangaea Past Issues | Field Notes Past Issues                                          Dec. 21, 2021—No. 263

Throwing Satellites into Orbit (Literally)

From GNNS to remote sensing, satellites play a key role in the geospatial world. Satellites are getting smaller and cheaper and new methods of launching them into orbit are being developed. One such method is called air launch. Examples include Virgin Orbit and Northrup Grumman’s Pegasus. Both use large commercial jets to take a rocket-satellite package to nearly 40,000 feet. The rocket is then released, the first state (stage?) is ignited, and the rocket with its satellite payload is delivered into orbit. A platform called Ravn X takes the concept of air launch to the next level by swapping out the commercial jet for an autonomous drone.

Air launch provides a tremendous advantage over conventional rocket-to-orbit methods as it saves enormous amounts of expensive rocket fuel and greatly simplifies the process of satellite orbital launches. The combination of small sats and air launch is enabling the democratization of space and making remote sensing more accessible and affordable to geospatial professionals


Now comes SpinLaunch, a company that takes a novel approach to air launch by taking the fixed wing “mothership” out of the equation and substituting centrifugal force.

SpinLaunch’s Orbital Launch System is a new way to put a satellite into orbit. The firm’s kinetic space launch system yields a four-time reduction in the fuel required to reach orbit, a tenfold reduction in cost, and the ability to launch multiple times per day. The company is planning commercial launches for late 2024.

Very simply, here is how it works.

• A satellite, ranging from 20kg to 200kg in size, is mated to a small rocket engine,
• The rocket-satellite is encapsulated in an aerodynamically streamlined chassis called the launch vehicle,
• The launch vehicle is attached to a hypersonic tether,
• The hypersonic tether spins up in a 300-foot diameter vacuum chamber to approximately 5,000 miles per hour,
• Once launch speed is achieved, the launch vehicle leaves the exit tunnel,
• When the launch vehicle achieves the required altitude, the chassis separates and the rocket ignites,
• At the desired orbit, the rocket separates from the satellite and orbit is achieved.

There are multiple advantages to this technology. Like other air launch platforms, tremendous amounts of rocket fuel are saved and, in the case of satellites air launched from commercial jet aircraft, jet fuel is also saved. Not only is this a cost savings, but it provides a path towards environmentally sustainable satellite orbital injection as it uses electricity in lieu of costly and polluting rocket fuel.

More importantly, the technology has the capability to make satellite launches faster, more routine, streamlined, and thus more economical.

The firm has solid backing from, among many others, Airbus Ventures, and looks to be a true game changer in the field of satellite orbital injection. For an in-depth look check out the website.

Until next time,


Trimble's New GNSS Base Station: R750
Trimble has introduced the Trimble R750 GNSS Modular Receiver, a connected base station for use in civil construction, geospatial and agricultural applications. The R750 provides improved base station performance, giving contractors, surveyors, and farmers more reliable and precise positioning in the field.

The R750 can be used to broadcast Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) corrections for a wide range of applications, including seismic surveying, monitoring, civil construction, precision agriculture and more. Access to all available satellite signals provides improved performance and reliability when used with a Trimble ProPoint Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) rover. ProPoint gives users improved performance in challenging GNSS conditions. Learn more on Trimble’s website.

Geo Week Conference: What’s next for BIM?
As the AEC industry begins to see more of their return on investment from BIM, advanced use cases and strategies for increasing efficiency are more possible than ever. Geo Week has five sessions devoted to varied aspects of BIM, including: Planning for the Digital Twin, Business Considerations for BIM, Advanced BIM, and Asset & Facility Management

GeoWeek is February 6-8, 2022, in Denver, Colorado. Go the event website to get registered.

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