Dawn Aerospace’s robotic spaceplane flew with a rocket engine for the first time last month, taking an important step toward the company’s goal of building a fully and rapidly reusable craft.
Last week, the 15.7-foot-long (4.8 meters) Aurora Mk-II flew three times and “all test objectives were met,” Dawn reps said in a statement (opens in a new tab) published Wednesday, April 5. The company also released a minute-long video showing the sleek spaceplane flying over the beautiful South Island of New Zealand, close to Glentanner Airfield where the tests were carried out.
In August 2021, the Mk-II Aurora made its debut with five test flights using surrogate jet engines, but the plan was still to switch to a rocket-powered engine. In the latest series of tests, which took place once a day from Wednesday March 29 to Friday March 31, the Mk-II Aurora flew at a height of 6,000 feet (1,830 m) at a speed of 196 mph ( 315 km/h). ), which are similar to those the spaceplane made during its 2021 test flights, Dawn’s team said in Wednesday’s update.
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“This is a phenomenal achievement for our small, but extremely capable team in New Zealand and the Netherlands,” Dawn Aerospace CEO Stefan Powell said Wednesday. different statement (opens in a new tab). “To my knowledge, Dawn now operates the fastest reusable rocket-powered aircraft in the world.”
The final test flights were primarily aimed at validating the aircraft’s rocket engine. The height reached by the aircraft was therefore not a key factor, and future flights would have to increase both speed and altitude.
Team Dawn envisions its Mk-II Aurora, which can carry a small 2.2-pound (5-kilogram) payload, not only to be able to fly more than 62 miles (100 kilometers) high, but to do so two times a day when performing business transactions, such as sending satellites in the space. When this manifests, Mk-II Aurora will become the first fully reusable satellite launcher.
Back in December 2020, Dawn Aerospace has been approved to fly the Mk-II Aurora from a conventional airport alongside civilian aircraft. This approval, granted by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, the agency responsible for aviation safety and security in the country, was another major victory for the company.
Airports usually wait for the release of launched rockets earth’s atmosphere and sometimes even redirect commercial flights as rockets can leave debris in their wake that can impact passenger planes. Dawn’s team says the Mk-II Aurora stands out in this regard because it’s designed to take off and land on a runway, just like an airplane. The spaceplane would therefore not need any special restrictions or dedicated runways.
All of these milestones, including the success of the latest test flights, advance Dawn’s goal of producing reusable spaceplanes in a scalable and sustainable way as the company plans to reach 100 to 1,000 flights per aircraft.
“Sustainability is important to us,” Powell said in his statement Wednesday. “Beyond being the responsible thing to do, there’s no point in building something if we can’t use it.”
By the end of 2022, Dawn had raised $13 million to build a successor to the Mk-II Aurora that would be capable of carrying a 550-pound (250 kg) payload into orbit.