Story at a glance

  • The 80-foot aircraft has a wingspan of 60 feet, stands 18 feet tall and is the world’s largest Unmanned Aircraft System by mass, weighing 55,000 pounds.
  • The aircraft is designed to drop a rocket in midair that launches small satellites into space.
  • The aircraft is designed to put satellites into orbit as fast as every 180 minutes.

A private rocket-launch startup unveiled its fully autonomous drone designed to drop a rocket in midair that shoots small satellites into orbit without a launchpad. 

Alabama-based company Aevum rolled out its Ravn X Autonomous Launch Vehicle at the Cecil SpacePort launch facility in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday. 

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The 80-foot aircraft has a wingspan of 60 feet, stands 18 feet tall and is the world's largest Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) by mass, weighing 55,000 pounds. 

The completely autonomous aircraft is 70 percent reusable with plans to be up to 95 percent reusable in the future. The craft flies just like a typical plane and can launch from any 1-mile runway, doing away with the costly infrastructure that comes with a launchpad. 

Once the Ravn X reaches the proper location and altitude, it drops a rocket that launches a payload of about 220 pounds into low-Earth orbit. After delivering the payload, the aircraft lands and parks itself in a hanger. 

The company says the aircraft is designed to put satellites into space as fast as every 180 minutes. 

"U.S. leadership has identified the critical need for extremely fast access to low Earth orbit," Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum, said in a statement. 

"Through our autonomous technologies, Aevum will shorten the lead time of launches from years to months, and when our customers demand it, minutes. This is necessary to improve lives on Earth. This is necessary to save lives," he said. 

The company has been awarded more than $1 billion in government contracts. The Space Force contracted Aevum to carry out its first small satellite mission, ASLON-45. The mission will improve "real-time threat warnings," according to the agency.  

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Published on Dec 03, 2020