Mk-II Aurora
(Credit: Dawn Aerospace)

Mk-II Aurora Space Plane Completes Its First Rocket-Powered Flight, Sets Pace for Orbital Program

Mk-II Aurora
(Credit: Dawn Aerospace)

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… with the announcement this week by New Zealand’s Dawn Aerospace of the successful rocket-powered test flight of its new Mk-II Aurora space plane, we’ll be looking at 1) the company’s initial experimental rocket flight, 2) how Dawn Aerospace plans to produce a more sustainable means of space flight, 3) the key components the recent tests of its space plane were able to validate, and 4) how this sets the stage for the company’s plans for its forthcoming orbital program.

Quote of the Week

“The rockets and the satellites, spaceships that we’re creating now, we’re pollinating the universe.”

– Neil Young

Latest Stories: Ahead of this week’s analysis, a few of the big stories we’ve covered in recent days include how researchers from the international think tank Applied Physics say they have created an artificial black hole in the lab that will help bring about the development of a working warp drive spaceship. Elsewhere, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency reports the completion of a landmark ballistic missile intercept during a recent Aegis system test. You can find links to all our recent stories at the end of this newsletter.

Podcasts: This week in podcasts from The Debrief, join Stephanie Gerk and MJ Banias as they discuss why they feel they could do a better job naming weird space objects than NASA, and MJ calculates the speed at which a cat would fly if propelled by an asteroid impact on The Debrief Weekly Report. Meanwhile, this week on The Micah Hanks Program, I go in pursuit of the modern legends that have become associated with Area 51, how it became a mainstay of American conspiracy theories, and look at the history–as well as the speculations–involving America’s best-known secret base. You can subscribe to all of The Debrief’s podcasts, including audio editions of Rebelliously Curious, by heading over to our Podcasts Page. 

Video News: In the latest installment of Rebelliously Curious, Chrissy Newton is joined by Bryan Bender, a former POLITICO award-winning National Security Reporter, and Editor turned Strategic Communications Advisor, to discuss the process of news dissemination and how he was first seeded the 2017 New York Times breaking UAP news. You can also watch past episodes and other great content from The Debrief on our official YouTube Channel.

With all the housekeeping out of the way, it’s now time to turn our attention to how the successful test flight of a rocket-propelled spacecraft brings us one step closer to a more sustainable future in space.

Mk-II Aurora Blasts Off with Rocket Propulsion

The first rocket-powered flight campaign of the Mk-II Aurora Space Plane was successfully completed, according to its developers at Dawn Aerospace.

The company, who operates in New Zealand, the United States, and the Netherlands, said in a statement that the recent flights took place between March 29 and 31 at New Zealand’s Glentanner Aerodrome.

With capabilities that include aircraft-like operations and the ability to take flight several times a day, Mk-II Aurora and other vehicles produced by Dawn Aerospace are capable of horizontal takeoff and landing, which removes the requirement for having a dedicated launch pad like traditional rocket-powered spacecraft.

Mk-II Aurora
The Mk-II Aurora seen on the runway at Glentanner Aerodrome during its recent test flight (Credit: Dawn Aerospace).

Recognized as one of the world’s quickest up-and-coming producers of green space propulsion technologies, Dawn Aerospace says the successful flight “signifies a major milestone in the company’s mission to revolutionize space access,” which includes the company’s aims to “provide end-to-end space transportation,” and to begin development of an orbital program scheduled to follow completion of delivery of the Mk-II Aurora.

The tests at Glentanner Aerodrome in late March were the first to include rocket-powered flight, with all previous tests conducted using jet engines. The company said it reached all objectives during last week’s experimental flight.

“Rapid Reusability”

Stefan Powell, the company’s CEO, said that to have delivered rapid reusability in the earliest testing phases offers “confirmation that rocket-powered vehicles can be operated just like commercial jet aircraft,” a primary focus of the company’s designs.

“This fact allows us to rapidly test now, but in the future, it will completely revolutionize the economics of space access,” Powell said in a statement.

Primarily, Dawn Aerospace says its mission is to provide sustainability as well as accessibility to scalable space technologies. “This means challenging the fundamentals of how we get to space and move around in space,” the company’s website states.

Dawn Aerospace says it has more than four dozen of its products already in orbit, with its current efforts behind its promising Space Launch program serving as its primary focus.

Validating Flight Capabilities

Last week’s flights focused on the validation of several capabilities and systems, chief among them the space plane’s rocket engine. However, during testing, the Mk-II Aurora’s recent flight still kept it far from its maximum flight performance capabilities.

The Mk-II Aurora is designed to be capable of flight to altitudes exceeding 60 miles (around 100 km) once it enters commercial operations and aims to become the first craft able to complete two flights per day, showcasing both its delivery and reusability in the burgeoning commercial space industry.

According to a statement, initial flights under rocket power reached approximately 6,000 feet and 170 knots, altitudes and speeds they said were comparable to previous test flights conducted with jet engines.

Future experimental flights will work toward reaching higher altitudes and gauging the aircraft’s maximum speeds.

The Path Toward Orbital Operations

Once the Mk-II Aurora program is complete, Dawn Aerospace plans to move forward with the production of the Mk-III, which will comprise a two-stage orbital vehicle.

Mk-III will be designed for the transport of payloads exceeding one ton to suborbital flight, enabling the delivery of a 550-pound satellite to low Earth orbit.

Mk-II Aurora
(Credit: Dawn Aerospace)

Powell said that the Mk-III, like the Mk-II before it, “is designed to be 96% reusable,” citing that the main area where the space industry contributes to the production of carbon dioxide and other compounds is in the production and manufacturing—not the fuel efficiency—of rocket usage.

“This is key to delivering on our vision of a sustainable and future-proof space industry,” Powell said in a statement, calling the recent test flight of the Mk-II Aurora “a monumental achievement,” which will propel the Aurora toward being recognized as “the most rapidly reusable rocket-powered aircraft in operation.”

That concludes this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief. You can read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website, or if you found this installment online, don’t forget to subscribe and get future email editions from us here. Also, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] thedebrief [dot] org, or Tweet at me @MicahHanks.

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