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Amazon patents whip-snapping launch system

Whip launch system
A diagram shows Amazon’s whip-based launch system in operation on a ship. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Never let it be said that Amazon Prime Air VP Gur Kimchi thinks small: His latest patent lays out a plan for a launch system that could theoretically send payloads into space on the end of a miles-long whip, guided by a phalanx of drones attached to the lash.

The patent application — co-written with veteran Amazon inventor Louis LeRoi LeGrand III, filed in 2017 and published on Feb. 11 — lays out an unusually detailed description of the system, right down to how the gear teeth in the mechanism could be arranged.

Although the application delves into the possibilities for boosting payloads to low Earth orbit, and then using orbiting platforms with tethers to transfer those payloads into even higher orbits, the inventors make clear there could be more mundane applications as well.

For example, smaller whips could send drones or other types of aerial vehicles into the air from ships at sea, or from planes in the air. Packages could be flung up on drones for processing on aerial fulfillment centers (an airship concept that’s the subject of an earlier Amazon patent).

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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