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Tonopah to be home to experimental hypersonic testing facility

Ambitious. It’s an apt word to describe Michael Grace’s vision for the future of his company, Longshot Space Technology Corporation, which, if all goes to plan, will build what he calls the world’s largest potato gun.

And while that may sound like fun and games, in reality the project is actually quite high-tech. Grace intends to construct a hypersonic accelerator on leased land at the Tonopah airport, something that could bring an economic benefit to the Tonopah area while providing a venue for private companies and even the U.S. government to conduct hypersonic aerospace tests.

“My job is to be absurdly ambitious, all the time, with my company,” Grace told Nye County commissioners this month. “I want to caveat this by saying, this is technology that has never been built before and everything could not work.”

Despite this acknowledgement, Grace said he feels confident that his efforts will ultimately bear fruit. This technology is something his company of about 10 employees have been working on for years and they have already achieved Mach 4.2 speeds with a prototype in Oakland, Calif. Grace said the initial purpose of the project would be for testing projectiles along the ground but eventually, he hopes to expand into aerial tests. He also believes the Tonopah project could have the potential to reach speeds of Mach 10 or even Mach 15.

“The near-term case is, we take a vehicle up to around Mach 5, it comes out, it travels for a few hundred yards and then it hits a dirt berm. That’s it, that’s the testing you get,” Grace explained. “What I want to do in the long term is, the vehicle comes out, hits the atmosphere, skips off the atmosphere and then flies in the Nevada National Security Site, where they can do whatever spooky, secret stuff they want to do with it.”

Grace said reaching that point would involve many considerations but, “I think even if all we do is shoot stuff right along the ground until we hit a dirt berm, it’ll still be a really cool capability that I think the DOD (Department of Defense) would love and could do a lot of good.”

Grace is aiming to build a “gun” that measures somewhere around 30 inches in diameter and about 5,000 feet in length on 12 acres of Tonopah Airport land. Unlike traditional guns, however, his project does not use combustion but rather, compressed gas.

“The way our system works is, it’s much more gentle and as the name would imply, long. So you stretch the system out and instead of having one big injection of hot, high-pressure gas, instead of a big boom, it’s a series of ‘pop, pop, pop, pops!’ along the length,” Grace detailed.

When it comes to the noise that will be produced by the hypersonic accelerator, Grace said the size of the object to be tested will have an effect but he does not anticipate town residents being impacted by the sound. “I think thunder is a good analogy,” he remarked. “That is an upper limit, I think… A lightning strike, seven miles away, might be comparable to what you’ll be hearing.”

He was requesting a lease agreement with the county for $3,000 per month. As that amount falls below fair market value, commissioners were required to adopt a resolution authorizing the lease, which passed with all in favor.

The five-year lease agreement itself also passed by unanimous vote, with requirements that Longshot must commence construction within a year and complete construction by no later than March 2027.

Now, Grace will work with county staff on a formal development agreement, which will be used to guide construction of the project and ensure its compatibility with the community.

For more information on Longshot visit LongshotSpace.com

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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