World’s Largest Fully-Autonomous Drone Unveiled

A US startup has launched a fully-autonomous drone, named the Ravn X, that could launch satellites into orbit every 180 minutes!

Technology advances fast, and it changes the entire world accordingly. By focusing on autonomy and improved logistics, one US-based startup is ‘completely reimagining access to space’!

According to Aevum, the developers of the first satellite- launching drone in the world, their innovation will be able to carry a new payload into orbit every 180 minutes!

Aevum claims that the enormous 80ft long drone, named the Ravn X, is fully autonomous, 70 percent reusable, and can take off and land on tracks as short as a mile long!

The firm works in a partnership with the US Space Force. The drone can take off from any runway to get to high altitude where it establishes a second stage that takes a small cargo the rest of the way to space.

It completes the task of launching the second stage rocket into low Earth orbit, and then returns to its home runway, lands, and then parks up in the hangar. The US Space Force ASLON-45 small satellite launch mission in 2021 is expected to be the first launch of a satellite using the Ravn X.

  • According to Aevum, the huge drone, named the Ravn X, is fully autonomous, 70 percent reusable, and can take off and land on runways as short as a mile long

  • The drone is 60ft across from wing tip to wing tip, 80ft long from front to back and 18ft high

Alabama-based Aevum explains that their creation will remove the need to risk human lives, as with the help of this technology, satellites could be sent into orbit without a pilot, launchpad, or massive rocket.

The drone is about 80ft long and can entirely autonomously carry satellites up to 500kg in weight, with no costly infrastructure.

It’s not the largest unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) by size, but it wins on mass, weighing 55,000 pounds including the rocket that will drop out of its belly in midair and shoot a satellite into space.

Developers and military indications show that the drone launch vehicle could help scientists to put sensors into orbit swiftly and inexpensively, to perform specific experiments.

Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum says:

“We are pushing logistics to the next generation with software and automation technologies.”

Mr. Skylus, a trained physicist who founded the company in 2016 after working at NASA and many commercial space companies, went on to explain that military and US officials have stated there is a ‘critical need’ for exceptionally fast access to low Earth orbit, so they started designing a system ‘faster than anybody’.

  • The drone can take off from any runway, reaches a high altitude, deploys a second stage, ad then returns to Earth

‘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.’

The firm added that the creation of a drone with the capacity to take off, launch a rocket, and land by itself requires a global system of self-operating intelligent systems:

“The autonomous launch architecture optimizes every launch, taking into account variables including weather conditions, air traffic, orbital destination, payload weight, ground crew schedules, and other complex logistics processes.”

Aevum claims that if such a need arises, it could get a new satellite into low Earth orbit every 180 minutes, and do that 24 hours a day.

Phil Smith, an expert in space technology for Bryce Space and Technology consultants, says they were entering a market that is quite packed. Namely, he claims that more than 100 small launch vehicles are being developed around the world -- including other high altitude launches like Virgin Orbit. He added that “there isn’t room for more than perhaps three to five or so.”

Yet, the difference between this one and others is that Aevum is a fully autonomous system, that needs no pilots or expensive launch pads to reach low Earth orbit.

The goal is to possess a fleet of fully autonomous Ravn X vehicles ready to take off immediately after notice. This could be helpful in military operations, search and rescue or even to provide communication satellites for large-scale events.

  • The first stage of the launch drone is fully reusable, the second stage takes the payload into space, and the third stage deploys it into a specific pre-selected orbit

  • The drone is about 80ft long and can carry satellites weighing up to 500kg fully autonomously

Skylus said:

“Ravn X is the only small launch vehicle that has been built from the ground up as reusable -- 70 percent reusable out of the gate, it will be up to 95 percent reusable in the near future. After making its delivery to low Earth orbit, the UAS simply returns to Earth, autonomously landing safely on a runway and parking itself in the hangar.”

Making systems more reusable is the best way to lower the cost. As the market is packed, the cheapest and fastest solutions have the highest chances to succeed.

  • It is expected that the first launch of a satellite using the Ravn X will be the US Space Force ASLON-45 small satellite launch mission in 2021

It has been reported that sending a payload to orbit with Aevum would be very cheap, a ‘few thousand dollars per kilogram’ -- which is an equal price to SpaceX.

Nevertheless, they say that researchers and customers would have more control over the schedule and exactly where in orbit their payload is deployed, in comparison to a big carrier such as SpaceX who fly dozens of satellites in one trip.

Aevum and US Space Force are working as partners, and US Space Force have enlisted themselves as the first customer and will work with the firm to launch satellites soon.

  • Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum (pictured): ‘We are pushing logistics to the next generation with software and automation technologies.’

Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, Chief of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, stated:

“I’m excited to see the bold innovation and responsiveness in development today by our small launch industry partners to support emerging warfighter needs.

The US 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.”

Mr. Skylus added that their software has automated much of the necessary launch paperwork and the startup only needs 10 percent of the staff normally needed for a rocket launch.

He said:

“What we’re proving is agility, flexibility, responsiveness, and operational efficiency.”