A company based out of Alabama called Aevum has this week unveiled the Ravn X, a drone designed to carry and launch satellites into low-orbit. It weighs in at approximately 55,000 pounds when it’s carrying a full payload, making it one of the heaviest unmanned aircraft in existence today.
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It also stands 18 feet tall, has a wingspan of 60 feet and looks like it came straight out of Macross Plus.
The promise of the drone is that it can put a payload in low-earth orbit in approximately three hours, a fact Aevum claims will allow it to shorten lead times on satellite launches from years to months.
Outside of its ominous-looking exterior and record-setting mass, the Ravn X isn’t so different from other aircraft. It only needs about 1-mile of runway to get in the air, allowing it to take off from almost any commercial airport. It also uses the same fuel as a traditional jet.
Once the Ravn X gets up to a suitable altitude, the two-stage rocket it’s carrying drops from its belly, igniting in about half a second. Eventually, Aevum says 95 percent of the launch vehicle will be reusable, but to start about 70 percent can be used again.
When the Ravn X finishes a delivery, it simply lands and heads back to a hanger to prepare for another launch.
Aevum says the Ravn X represents a new paradigm of putting a rocket into space. And while the autonomous aspect of its approach is different, there are other companies working to put rockets into space from aircraft.
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Virgin Orbit is one such company — though it has yet to successfully complete a test launch. Ravn X’s first mission will see it attempt to put the US Space Force’s ASLON-45 satellite into orbit sometime next year.
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