Sunday, June 16, 2024

Amazon patents a system for whipping payloads into orbit

Generally, satellites are launched by rockets. A newly published patent from Amazon shows a ship-based launch system that utilizes the principles of whip dynamics to launch payloads into space using a miles-long whip attached to a fleet of drones. The patent, discovered by GeekWire, was registered back in 2017 but became public last week.

This is a crazy idea! Co-authored by the senior Amazon inventor Louis LeRoi LeGrand III, the patent application details this unusual launch system. It shows that a miles-long whip is attached to a marine vehicle (such as a ship) on one end, and a drone (or aerial vehicle) carrying the payload on the other end. A series of additional aerial vehicles, attached at intervals along the length of the launch whip, help generate the whip waveform by flying up and down.

The end where the payload is connected then cracks like a whip, sending the payload flying. Depending on how many drones are attached, the whip could stretch as long as 500 miles, until the final launch that would allow the small load to reach even supersonic speeds.

The system could be scaled down even to throw smaller packages attached to aerial vehicles into the air as well, but the patent’s description and images suggest that Amazon’s inventors considered payloads like satellites. Such a system could save the enormous cost of launching the satellite using the rocket, which increases fuel consumption and the intrinsic difficulties of the launch itself.

Actually, Amazon is preparing for its “Project Kuiper broadband data constellation,” which would require launching thousands of satellites, and it’s no wonder that the company is looking for a low-cost launch vehicle. But, I feel like a whip is an overly aggressive idea!

Amazon spokesperson told GeekWire, “Patents take multiple years to receive and do not necessarily reflect our current product roadmap. Like many companies, we file a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technology.”

Amazon has filed patent applications for a variety of such crazy ideas, including flying warehouses, a delivery drone beehives, and a drone that responds when you shout at it. If even one of them becomes a reality, a world like science fiction is likely to come.