Fully autonomous orbital rocket launching drone unveiled by Aevum

Image © Aevum

SOURCE SpaceNews Aevum CEO Jay Skylus said Ravn X will be ready for operations within the next 18 months after it clears regulatory reviews.

WASHINGTON — Air-launch startup Aevum on Dec. 3 unveiled Ravn X, the drone aircraft that will serve as the first stage of its smallsat launch system. 

Aevum, a four-year-old company based in Huntsville, Alabama, is positioning Ravn X to compete in the increasingly crowded small launch market, promising fast-response service enabled by an autonomous aircraft that can take off from any mile-long runway.

Image © Aevum

“This is the first time we’re showing the full vehicle, all three stages,” Aevum founder and CEO Jay Skylus told SpaceNews.

“Now we will start doing vehicle level testing that’s required for air-worthiness certification and launch licensing,” Skylus said. 

The 55,000-pound unpiloted aircraft is 80 feet long with a 60-foot wingspan. While in flight it will release a two-stage rocket that can launch 100 kilograms to 500 kilograms of payload to low orbits. Skylus said Ravn X will be ready for operations within the next 18 months after it clears regulatory hurdles.

The next step will be to seek air-worthiness certification for the drone from the Federal Aviation Administration. The vehicle later will go to Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida, for orbital launch testing. 

“This is when we start putting our design through the wringer,” said Skylus. “It only gets harder from here,” he added. “The hardest part is always in the last 10 percent of any program.”

Getting through the regulatory challenges to fly an unmanned air vehicle that launches rockets will be tough, said Skylus. “But it’s necessary for the market we’re after.” The goal is to provide reliable service with minimal logistics footprint, he said. The vehicle uses jet fuel and the same equipment as airplanes.

“There’s no aircraft out there perfectly designed for  small launch,” he said. “We needed a first stage. We chose a drone. Why risk a pilot?”

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