Space

World's biggest drone to launch satellites into space from mid-air

World's biggest drone to launc...
Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum, stands in front of the newly unveiled Ravn X drone
Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum, stands in front of the newly unveiled Ravn X drone
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Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum, stands in front of the newly unveiled Ravn X drone
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Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum, stands in front of the newly unveiled Ravn X drone
The giant Ravn X drone is 80 ft long, 18 ft tall and has a wingspan of 60 ft
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The giant Ravn X drone is 80 ft long, 18 ft tall and has a wingspan of 60 ft
Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum
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Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum
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While the idea of a space launch might usually conjure up images of a rocket blasting off vertically from the pad, lately we’re seeing how a number of companies might soon shake things up. Looking to make its mark in this area is US-based firm Aevum, which has just unveiled a massive drone called the Ravn X that is designed to act as an autonomous, airborne launch system for small satellites.

Much like Rocket Lab, SpaceX, Virgin Orbit and a number of other startups, Aevum hopes to improve access to space with a novel launch system that can deliver payloads to orbit with high frequency. Its solution to this was to develop what it says is the biggest drone in the world, which 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 giant Ravn X drone is 80 ft (24 m) long, 18 ft (5.5 m) tall, has a wingspan of 60 ft (18 m) and uses the same jet fuel as a regular airplane. Aevum says the Ravn X is almost weather agnostic and can launch in nearly all conditions, while 70 percent of the drone is reusable, with the company eyeing something closer to full reusability down the track.

The giant Ravn X drone is 80 ft long, 18 ft tall and has a wingspan of 60 ft
The giant Ravn X drone is 80 ft long, 18 ft tall and has a wingspan of 60 ft

The Ravn X carries some similarities to Virgin Orbit’s launch system, or the Stratolaunch, which is the world’s largest plane and is being developed to launch payloads into space from mid-air. Unlike these systems, however, the Ravn X won’t require pilots onboard to operate, therefore removing the risk to human life. Safety issues aside, Aevum says a full fleet of autonomous RavnX vehicles will be capable of firing a payload into space every 180 minutes.

“Aevum is completely reimagining access to space,” says Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum. “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.”

Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum
Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum

Aevum may have just whipped the covers off its autonomous launch system, but says it has already earned more than US$1 billion in launch contracts. Among its customers is the US Space Force, which will use the Ravn X system to launch its ASLON-45 mission to place a set of small satellites in low Earth orbit.

“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.”

You can see the Ravn X move around the runway in the video below.

Aevum rolls out Ravn X, the world's largest drone

Source: Aevum

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14 comments
14 comments
guzmanchinky
That looks like something from the First Order! Very cool technology. Someday we will have aircraft that can transform into spacecraft and back at will.
himse1f
Just looking at the drone's landing gear, I can see it's just a cheap mock-up. Still a good-looking craft, reminiscent of Boeing's Loyal Wingman, and a good idea to save weight in the launch vehicle. Here's hoping Aevum make it all work!
Bob Stuart
This would be a great time to buy a dozen 747s, and fly them in a vertical formation after using refueling-like techniques to link them with a single rope. Then, they can do a pass down the runway and pick up a very heavy 2nd stage from a souped-up truck.
Brian M
The concept of ground launched rockets never really made sense when you can (on earth anyway) more efficiently use the principles of lift to get your payload a lot of the way to the space boundary.
Kpar
Why all the focus on how little runway is needed, or hangar space? Seems to me that a sufficiently powerful aircraft (manned or unmanned) will allow for larger payloads or higher orbits. Speed and altitude are the relevant factors, and there are plenty of airports with two-mile-long runways.
gbsderm
Snazzy video, but it doesn't appear as though the drone has even flown.

When will be the drone's first flight?
What will be the launch vehicle?
When is the first launch?
What is the mass to low earth orbit?
What is the cost per kg to LEO?

BlueOak
Melodramatic sound track and non-running fake but slick-looking prototype in the YouTube video aside, there’s something off about this company. Their site is almost devoid of real content and evidence of something real actually being built and tested. The site reads more like a feed the children philanthropic organization. One hopes the US taxpayers are not too deep into this endeavor via the US Air Force without more concrete evidence of real world progress. Slick talk aside.
Nelson Hyde Chick
Couldn't they have just taken an old F-15, make it robot controlled and they would have what we see here at a fraction of the cost?
János Simon
It is sad, seeing mankind spending billions to kill each other, instead turn this money into space exploration.
bkwanab
So, take a high time used ex military fighter/interceptor, remove all the weight and complexity of life support systems so it can climb higher, hang a non reusable rocket in the belly of the beast to take small cube sats into LEO. No big deal.
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