Forget air-launching rockets at high altitudes from a conventional aircraft to carry satellites to low Earth orbit because now, a drone can do that.
This past week, a startup in Alabama called Aevum unveiled the Ravn X Autonomous Launch Vehicle designed to carry and launch satellites into low-orbit, according to a company press release.
As described by Aevum, Ravn X is the “world’s largest Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), by mass, designed to deliver satellites to space as fast as every 180 minutes.”
Aevum’s customer and mission partner, the U.S. Space Force, will launch Space Force’s ASLON-45 satellite into orbit sometime in 2021.
Ravn X is a beast of an airframe, weighing in at 55,000 pounds when it’s carrying a rocket with a satellite payload. The drone stands about 18 feet tall, has a wingspan of 60 feet.
Science Magazine reports Jay Skylus, founder and CEO, has already inked about $1 billion in military contracts to launch small satellites quickly into orbit.
“Aevum is completely reimagining access to space. The current definition of rocket science doesn’t work for us. With Aevum, everyone will be able to say, ‘It is rocket science and I can do it.’ Aevum is pushing logistics to the next generation with software and automation technologies,” Skylus said.
He continued: “U.S. leadership has identified the critical need for extremely fast access to low Earth orbit. We’re faster than anybody. To me, space is merely a vantage point from which the next generation can commit global progress. Through our autonomous technologies, Aevum will shorten the lead time of launches from years to months, and when our customers demand it, minutes. This is necessary to improve lives on Earth. This is necessary to save lives.”
While this was certainly not mentioned in the press release, Ravn X will likely be used to quickly launch military satellites into space during the next major conflict when space-based war has our adversaries use hypersonic missiles to knock out critical satellites. The ability to deliver satellites into orbit in three hours is game-changing.