Space

Reusable spaceplane demonstrator completes 5 test flights in 3 days

Reusable spaceplane demonstrat...
The Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane is a technology demonstrator for the more advanced Mk-III
The Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane is a technology demonstrator for the more advanced Mk-III
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Wingtip view of the Mk-II Aurora
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Wingtip view of the Mk-II Aurora
The Mk-II Aurora's rocket engine undergoing static testing
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The Mk-II Aurora's rocket engine undergoing static testing
The Mk-II Aurora over New Zealand
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The Mk-II Aurora over New Zealand
The recent test flights used surrogate jet engines instead of a rocket
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The recent test flights used surrogate jet engines instead of a rocket
The Mk-II is capable of suborbital flight
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The Mk-II is capable of suborbital flight
Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane over the New Zealand mountains
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Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane over the New Zealand mountains
The Mk-II will also capture atmospheric data for weather and climate modeling
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The Mk-II will also capture atmospheric data for weather and climate modeling
The Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane is a technology demonstrator for the more advanced Mk-III
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The Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane is a technology demonstrator for the more advanced Mk-III
View gallery - 8 images

Dawn Aerospace has successfully completed five test flights of its uncrewed Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane in the skies over Glentanner Aerodrome on New Zealand’s South Island. The flights were conducted by the New Zealand-Dutch space transportation company from July 28 to 30, 2021 at altitudes of up to 3,400 feet (1,036 m), with the prototype airframe fitted with surrogate jet engines.

The three-days of test flights to assess the airframe and avionics of the aircraft took place under a certificate issued to Dawn by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which allowed the Mk-II Aurora to operate from conventional airports without airspace restrictions after ground tests were completed.

The Mk-II Aurora is designed to take off and land horizontally using conventional runways. It's currently equipped with surrogate jet engines, but these will be replaced by a liquid-fuel rocket engine, which is now undergoing static tests. Once installed, the hydrogen peroxide/kerosene engine will propel the spaceplane to supersonic speeds and high altitudes, and ultimately to a height of 100 km (62 mi) on a suborbital trajectory.

The Mk-II will also capture atmospheric data for weather and climate modeling
The Mk-II will also capture atmospheric data for weather and climate modeling

According to Dawn, the Mk-II Aurora is a demonstrator for the more advanced two-stage-to-orbit Mk-III vehicle, which is designed to fly from a number of global hub launch locations. Dawn says it the aircraft intended to operate as a fleet of spaceplanes on the commercial airline model, with multiple daily launches, while integrating with other fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in the airspace. The MK-II will be able to deliver payloads weighing up to 250 kg (550 lb) and the first stage is reusable.

In addition to conducting engineering tests, the Mk-II will also be used to gather atmospheric data for weather and climate modeling, and for conducting other scientific research and technology demonstrations.

"Dawn is focused on sustainable and scalable access to space and our Mk-II vehicle is entirely reusable," says Dawn CEO Stefan Powell. "The team have successfully captured extensive data enabling further R&D on the capability of Mk-II. I’m hugely proud of our engineering team for designing and building a vehicle that flies beautifully first time and just as predicted. We are delighted with the results and demonstrating rapid turnaround – we conducted five flights within three days, and two flights occurred within ninety minutes of each other."

The video below shows the recent flight tests.

Mk-II Aurora

Source: Dawn Aerospace

View gallery - 8 images
10 comments
10 comments
michael_dowling
Virgin Orbit already air launches satellites into orbit on a regular basis using a modified 747,so I don't see the point of this new spaceplane,unless it's ability to go sub-orbital can insert packages into a higher orbit.
BlueOak
Why did it take them a month to release this 3,400 ft altitude test info? So it’s basically a glorified RC plane.

Not sure why they’re so proud of making several low altitude flights separated by 90 minutes each? (Were they concerned their reusable plane would self-destruct?)
David
Looking forward to seeing how it performs with rocket engines at higher speeds and altitudes.
Douglas Rogers
I have been waiting for Aroura for decades!
sally
They do seem to easily impressed with themselves they have done nothing so far that capable model engineers could and indeed have achieved for 50+ years. I wish them well but this sort of so far unsupported bravado hardly inspires you with confidence considering other well backed projects to in the field have collapsed.
WaveRider
Don't see what functionality this has beyond any large turbine powered RC aircraft, of which there are hundreds. There are also rocket powered RC aircraft, but maybe the uniqueness here is configuring it with thrusters for attitude control at higher altitudes. Not really newsworthy until they hit that 100 km target.
Indiver716
3,400 ft! 550lb payload! Reusable first stage only! Elon Musk watch out!!
Christian Lassen
Competition in the industry isn't a bad thing. Would be curious to see how well and how quickly they can get this going.
clay
This "space plane" is an RC aircraft at relatively low altitudes and speeds.
Nice design though. It will be interesting watch as it develops.
Baker Steve
Wow – what a beautiful aircraft. And so redolent of Concorde.

Reading the other comments below, though, maybe I'm just easily impressed.