Every now and then, it becomes obvious that there are many more players in the private aerospace industry than just giants like Blue Origin and SpaceX.
These companies remain the largest in the industry, and their influence on activities can’t possibly be overemphasized. However, several other companies have also made significant progress in bringing their products to the market.
Dawn Aerospace Hits a Milestone with the MK-II
One such company is Dawn Aerospace - a private company based out of New Zealand. Dawn Aerospace has made significant progress this year, and it recently got on the industry’s radar after the successful launch of its suborbital space vehicle.
Back in July, Dawn Aerospace made the fifth successful flight for its MK-II Aurora shuttle. The vehicle is designed to fly as high as 60 miles above the Earth’s surface, and it was able to reach some impressive heights before coming back down to Earth in its last go.
Dawn’s latest flight took place at the Glentanner Aerodrome in the South Island region of New Zealand. The company had been looking to examine the MK-II’s avionics and airframe. While it only got up to 3,400 feet, Dawn’s chief executive Stefan Powell confirmed that they were able to capture extensive data that would help in additional research & development purposes.
“We are delighted with the results and demonstrating rapid turnaround — we conducted five flights within three days, and two flights occurred within 90 minutes of each other," Powel said in part.
A Focus on Sustainability
Dawn has been doing pretty good work over the past few months. The company received significant financial aid in 2021 as it received private equity funding from Movac, the largest tech investment company in New Zealand. While the investment sum itself wasn’t disclosed, it was said to come from Movac’s multi-stage technology fund - which was valued at about $250 million.
Dawn is focusing on an interesting market - suborbital vehicles. This could be an interesting opportunity because not many other private aerospace companies are focusing on it. Blue Origin, SpaceX, and the others have been focusing more on getting people to space, and Dawn could easily conquer the suborbital vehicle industry.
The company is also employing an innovative approach. It is looking to develop a vehicle that can take off and land from regular airports and possibly run through several flights to and from space daily. The approach will be much less expensive than the vertical launch approaches employed by some of the bigger companies in the space industry, and Dawn’s MK-II flight is even sporting a much sleeker design.
With just 165 pounds in weight when empty and a length of 16 feet, MK-II can lower operating costs significantly. Explaining their focus on economics and conservation, Powell said Dawn is looking to make spaceflight even more affordable - both for the people flying and the companies themselves.
“Our industry is heavily reliant on vehicles that fly to space once, or that are partially refurbished over weeks or months. Many launch companies are pursuing mass-manufacturing for lower and lower price points, rather than pursuing cost savings through reusability,” he said.
Pointing to vehicles today, Powell added that it wouldn’t make much sense to use a car just a few times and then dispose of it. Given that most launch hardware creates most of their carbon footprint while they are being manufactured and used, discarding after a few applications doesn’t make much sense. Dawn is looking to improve reusability in the space industry - possibly even more than SpaceX.
Bigger Plans from Here
As evidenced by its name, the MK-II is the second version of Dawn’s space vehicle. However, the company plans to go even further. It is looking to build a MK-III space plane that will employ a two-stage-to-orbit system. This plane will primarily be used for scientific research, with Dawn hoping to partner with weather regulators and agencies to improve climate modeling and weather investigations.
The current MK-II has a payload of fewer than 8.8 lbs. The upcoming MK-III is expected to carry up to 551 lbs. in weight.
For now, Dawn will continue to test the MK-II and its various systems. For instance, testing operations are currently ongoing for the vehicle’s rocket engine. Dawn representatives have confirmed that they will fit the rocket engine into the vehicle once the former is ready to go, ensuring that they can start with high-altitude test flights and supersonic missions for the spaceplane.
The addition of its rocket engine is expected to take the MK-II past the Kármán Line, with a recorded height of about 62 miles above the Earth. That will be more than enough for suborbital flight.