Alabama-based startup Aevum rolls out its Ravn X Autonomous Launch Vehicle, the world’s largest Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), which is designed to deliver satellites to space as fast as every 180 minutes. This fully autonomous rocket-drone plane can send small satellites into orbit from a normal runway.
The Aevum Ravn X is a massive drone designed to act as an autonomous, airborne launch system for a small satellite. The drone is 80 ft. (24 meters) long, has a 60 ft. (18 meters) wingspan, is 18 ft. (5.4 meters) tall, and has a gross takeoff weight of 55,000 lbs (around 24,950 kg). Aevum doesn’t need to build or maintain a launch site as Ravn X can autonomously take off and land on runways as short as one mile (1.6 km) long and requires only 8,000 square feet (743 sq m) of hangar space.
The rocket-launching drone consists of a reusable, fully autonomous unmanned aircraft system designed for atmospheric flight. The overall aerodynamic design of the vehicle has been optimized for the rocket separation. According to the company, Ravn X is almost weather-agnostic and can launch in nearly all conditions. 70% reusable out of the gate, this Aevum Ravn X will be up to 95% reusable in the near future. The entire vehicle also uses the same jet fuel as an airplane, Jet-A.
Thanks to its feasibility and the fact that it is not a rocket, Aevum boasts of drastically reducing launch times. With its fleet of autonomous Ravn X vehicles, Aevum will offer on-demand scheduling of precision orbital deliveries, as fast as every 180 minutes, 24/7, with no risk to human life. After making its delivery to low Earth orbit, the UAS simply returns to Earth, autonomously landing safely on a runway and parking itself in the hangar.
Such an autonomous launch paradigm dramatically lowers the barrier for space access in time, cost, and customer experience. It accelerates improvements in billion-dollar industries such as logistics, intelligence, defense, e-commerce, advanced analytics, climate change and weather monitoring, agriculture, IoT, and more.
The company says it has already earned more than US$1 billion in launch contracts. Aevum is on track for its first launch with the U.S. Space Force and its ASLON-45 mission.
“I’m excited to see the bold innovation and responsiveness in development today by our small launch industry partners to support emerging warfighter needs,” says Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, Chief of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Small Launch and Targets Division. “The U.S. Space Force is proactively partnering with industry to support U.S. space superiority objectives. Having a robust U.S. industry providing responsive launch capability is key to ensuring the U.S. Space Force can respond to future threats.”
Aevum is exploring an undoubtedly interesting method for orbiting satellites and instrumentation. The takeoff and landing horizontally is an interesting alternative to traditional vertical trajectory rockets. Aevum certainly cannot compete in transport capacity with large SpaceX rockets like the Starship or even the Falcon 9. However, it can be an alternative for small companies that want to put their experiments into orbit without having to wait for a SpaceX launch to be attached to other launches. Something that RocketLab is also doing with its rockets.