A Reusable Spaceplane Prototype Completed 5 Test Flights in 3 Days

And it could become the first aircraft to reach space multiple times in a single day.
Chris Young
The MK-II Aurora.Dawn Aerospace

Dawn Aerospace, a company aiming to develop reusable spaceplanes, successfully conducted five test flights of its uncrewed Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane between July 28 and July 30, reaching altitudes of up to 3,400 feet (1,036 m), the company explained in a press release.

The team behind the test flights fitted the prototype spaceplane with surrogate jet engines for the five flights that took place over the Glentanner Aerodrome in South Island, New Zealand.

The test flights were conducted to assess the spaceplane's airframe and avionics. The aircraft's surrogate jet engines will eventually be replaced by a liquid-fuel rocket engine, which is currently undergoing static fire tests. Once the spaceplane is fitted with Dawn Aerospace's proprietary engine, it will reach supersonic speeds and will ultimately fly above the Kármán Line at a height of 62 miles (100 km), meaning it will travel through suborbital space. 

Going supersonic

Dawn Aerospace joins a number of other firms aiming to commercialize supersonic flight, space travel, and a combination of both. Boom Supersonic, for example, is conducting tests on its XB-1 aircraft, which is also a demonstrator for its commercial supersonic airliner Overture. Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, meanwhile, recently took Virgin founder Richard Branson to suborbital space and will soon kickstart commercial space tourism flights.

"Dawn is focused on sustainable and scalable access to space and our Mk-II vehicle is entirely reusable," Dawn Aerospace CEO Stefan Powell said in the company's release. "The team has successfully captured extensive data enabling further R&D on the capability of Mk-II. I’m hugely proud of our engineering team for designing and building a vehicle that flies beautifully the first time and just as predicted. We are delighted with the results and demonstrating rapid turnaround – we conducted five flights within three days, and two flights occurred within ninety minutes of each other."

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Dawn Aerospace says the MK-II Aurora is being tested as a demonstrator for its Mk-III vehicle, which will be a two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane. The company eventually aims to operate a fleet of commercial spaceplanes with numerous daily launches allowing travelers to reach their destination in a fraction of the time. If it achieves that feat, it could become the first company to launch the same aircraft into space several times in one day.

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