World's largest drone set to launch satellites into orbit

World’s largest drone set to launch satellites into orbit

Drone drops rocket in flight which shoots payload into space

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Friday 04 December 2020 21:26

The world’s largest drone is set to launch satellites into space after being unveiled by a US startup rocket company.

The 80ft long Ravn X drone can fly from any runway that is at least a mile long and drops a rocket in midair that shoots small satellites into orbit.

Aevum, who unveiled the 60ft wide and 18ft tall drone, say they will be able to launch payloads within three hours of receiving them at spaceports.

Once the drone reaches the right altitude, location and speed, its second-stage rocket drops and ignites within half a second to launch a 220 pound payload into low-Earth orbit.

The US Air Force has already chosen the firm to fly a $4.9 million satellite mission for it in 2021.

The Ravn X actually has a smaller wingspan than a Northrup Grumman drone but beats it on mass, weighing in at 28-tons.

Aevum CEO and founder Jay Skylus says that the drone is actually similar to a traditional plane and flies on jet fuel.

"We don't need a launch site. All we need is a runway that's one mile long and a hanger," Mr Skylus told Business Insider.

Mr Skylus says that the company’s software has automated much of the necessary launch paperwork and Alabama-based Aevum only needs 10 per cent of the staff normally needed for a rocket launch.

 "What we're proving is agility, flexibility, responsiveness, and operational efficiency,” he said.

“This is a brand-new architecture, and a brand-new launch vehicle that's never been conceived.”

The company says that it is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure the safety of Ravn X.

"When you start looking into all of this ... the line between a piloted commercial airliner versus our launch vehicle really starts to blur," said Mr Skylus said.

“It's hard to tell where one's more safe than the other, and why a person might feel more comfortable with a giant Boeing airplane flying over you, every single day, versus this one.”

Mr Skylus is a trained physicist and founded the company in 2016 after working at NASA and a number of commercial space companies.

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