World’s largest drone unveiled for launching smallsats

Capitalism in space: Aevum, a new entrant in the race to provide low cost reusable launch services for the emerging smallsat market, has unveiled the world’s largest drone, dubbed RAVN-X, designed to take off and land at airports and then release an upper stage rocket that takes the satellite into orbit.

RAVN-X is not the first air-launched rocket catering to the “smallsat” market. Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus system has flown dozens of times since the 1990s. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne failed in its first launch attempt earlier this year, will try again later this month with an attempt to launch 10 NASA-funded “CubeSats”—small satellites that typically weigh less than 10 kilograms each. But both Pegasus and LauncherOne use traditional, piloted jets, whereas Aevum’s driverless drone is unique, says Phil Smith, a senior analyst at Bryce Space and Technology, a consulting firm. Still, Smith says, RAVN-X is flying into a crowded market, with more than 100 small launch vehicles in development. “There’s a plethora of systems out there,” he says. “There isn’t room for more than perhaps three to five or so.”

According to the article, Aevum already has a billion dollars in launch contracts with the Space Force. They are targeting ’21 for their first orbital flight.