In July 2020, Dawn Aerospace unveiled the Mk II Aurora suborbital spaceplane, smaller than a compact car and capable of multiple same-day flights.
Mk-II Aurora is a sub-scale suborbital vehicle capable of flying up to an altitude of more than 100km several times a day. It can take off and land at standard airports, alongside normal aircraft. The capability to use the same vehicle several times will eliminate the need for factory production of rockets and reduce ocean pollution due to rocket debris.
Aurora is being developed by New Zealand-based aerospace company Dawn Aerospace to demonstrate the company’s core technology for daily access to space in a subscale vehicle. It is primarily a technology demonstrator for the company’s next iteration, Mk-III Aurora, but it will aid scientific research by accessing parts of the Earth’s atmosphere that are too high for regular aircraft or balloons to operate and too low for satellites.
The vehicle is capable of consistently flying horizontally at an altitude between 50km and 80km, providing access to areas of the stratosphere that could not be previously achieved using conventional sounding rockets.
The 4.8m-long Aurora aircraft will be able to reach a maximum speed of Mach 3+. Its take-off weight is 280kg while the empty weight is 75kg.
The spaceplane can also perform technology demonstrations such as synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) validation.
Mk-II will use high-test peroxide (HTP) / kerosene as the propellant. Its trajectory will be customer-defined and the spaceplane will feature openable payload doors for atmospheric accessibility.
The spaceplane will draw power from two jet engines for preliminary testing. The first scientific experiment to be undertaken by Aurora for the Centaurus High School Physics Club in 2021 will measure airborne pollutants in the mesosphere.
Unlike existing rockets which need special launch sites and exclusive airspace, Aurora will be able to fly from existing airports under aircraft laws. Dawn Aerospace was working with the New Zealand Space Agency (NZSA) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for flight approvals.
Dawn has plans for an Mk-III iteration of its space plane that will be 60 feet long and be able to carry all the way to orbit payloads weighing between 110 and 220 lbs.
Combined with its ability to do multiple daily flights and take off and land from conventional runways anywhere in the world, that would be a game-changer for the small satellite launch industry.