Wave Motion wins $1.3M award to work on prototype jet-gun launcher for U.S. Navy

Casey Dunn, Finn van Donkelaar and James Penna show off Wave Motion Launch’s Big Iron demonstration jet-gun launcher. (Wave Motion Photo)

Everett, Wash.-based Wave Motion Launch Corp. has been awarded $1.3 million to support the venture’s efforts to develop a barrel-less launcher technology that could eventually be used to send payloads to space.

Wave Motion was selected for project funding by the Office of Naval Research via the Naval Surface Technology and Innovation Consortium. NSTIC offers federally funded research and business opportunities related to naval surface technology innovation, with a focus on emerging ventures.

The funding is due to run through the end of 2023 — and if Wave Motion’s jet-gun technology proves out, the company could be selected for follow-up awards.

Wave Motion is the brainchild of three University of Washington alumni — Finn van Donkelaar, James Penna and Casey Dunn. The two-year-old venture was one of the award winners in UW CoMotion’s I-Corps program in 2020. Van Donkelaar is Wave Motion’s CEO and holds the patent for the jet-gun system. Penna is the chief operating officer, and Dunn has served as chief financial officer.

The jet-gun concept involves firing a jet of supersonic gas to push a projectile to very high speeds. Since there’s no physical structure or barrel surrounding the projectile, Wave Motion says the system has the potential to be up to 100 times more compact than a rocket or regular cannon of equivalent power.

“Rocket launches usually cost thousands of dollars per pound of payload,” Wave Motion says on its website. “Instead of the steep price that rockets demand, our jet-gun will be able to launch payloads for $100 [per pound].”

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The team has already conducted a series of tests with an early prototype nicknamed “Big Iron,” and is working on a hypersonic prototype jet-gun called “Hi-Ho, Silver.”

In Tuesday’s announcement of the U.S. Navy award, Wave Motion said that it would use part of its funding to collaborate with UW’s Autonomous Controls Lab on a method for steering the vehicles launched by the jet-gun as they make their way through the atmosphere and into space.

Update for 2:50 p.m. April 4: We’ve corrected the source of funding to credit the Office of Naval Research.

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