Alabama (USA) startup Aevum unveiled on December 3 one of the world’s largest drones, Ravn X, designed to launch small spacecraft into orbit.
The Ravn X combines an unmanned aircraft with horizontal takeoff and landing capabilities, with a rocket that launches from it at high altitude and can deliver small payloads into space.
The Ravn X is 80 feet (24.4 m) long, has a wingspan of 60 feet (18.3 m) and a height of 18 feet (5.5 m). It is not the largest unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in terms of size. For example, the wings of Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Triton drone extend nearly 131 feet (39.9 m). But the Ravn X weighs much more – 55,000 pounds (24.9 tons).
The Ravn X delivery system is capable of launching small satellites into orbit in as little as 180 minutes, with the ability to launch again shortly thereafter. The drone uses traditional fuel, the same as commercial airliners, and, according to founder and CEO Jay Skylus, can take off and land in almost any weather. It can also take off and land on any stretch of conventional one-mile (1.6 km) runway. This means that theoretically the Ravn X can use almost any operating airport in the world as a launch and landing site.
One of the key differences between Aevum and other space launch startups is that Ravn X already has customers, including contracts with the U.S. government worth more than $1 billion. Its first mission is the launch of the ASLON-45 small satellite for the U.S. Space Force, scheduled for late 2021. There is also a contract for 20 missions over nine years with the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. According to Skylus, the startup has already begun shipping production Aevum to customers.