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An Aircraft Without A Pilot Can Change The Way We Launch Satellites

A new startup claims they will be able to launch a satellite every 180 minutes.

Aevum is located in located in Huntsville, Alabama and their main focus will be to launch small (tiny, as they describe) satellites into space every 3 hours using an air launch system they developed called Ravn.

“Aevum, INC. was founded to break the digital divide and transcend the unity of humankind beyond physical, economic, social, and geopolitical barriers by developing and operating next generation logistics technologies.” (Image Credit: Aevum)


Jay Skylus, who is not only the CEO and Chief Launch Architect, but also an aerospace engineer with Aevum, says that Ravn operates like a commercial aircraft, and that it’s range “from takeoff to landing can range between 30 and 80 minutes.”

The key to the success of this system is uncrewed automation, which will simplify the ground operations considerably, according to Skylus. He describes that “Ravn takes off and lands horizontally on any standard runway. The robotic Ravn is engineered to be autonomous from the moment it leaves the hangar from taxi, takeoff, launch, landing and taxi return to the hangar.” The company’s ground systems can even operate with a crew as small as six people.

“Aevum, INC. was founded to break the digital divide and transcend the unity of humankind beyond physical, economic, social, and geopolitical barriers by developing and operating next generation logistics technologies.”

(Image Credit: Aevum)

If you’re like us, you are probably wondering what made Skylus start a company like this. Why do we need a launching company without pilots? When he heard about the 19 people killed in Afghanistan in 2006 because of communication failures during Operation Red Wings, it really hit home for him because his own brother serves in the United States Military. He felt a deep sorrow and empathy for those families that lost loved ones, and that is what inspired him to overcome communication challenges. He also knew that companies had a very limited number of options to have satellites sent to space, so Skylus wanted to give them a new, affordable option.

Aevum is not the only company that is experimenting with the idea of an air launch system. Northrop Grumman, Stratolaunch Systems, and Virgin Orbit are all testing these technologies.

However, the main difference between then and Aevum is that their aircrafts still require a pilot to fly. Skylus says that “the overall aerodynamic design of the vehicle has been optimized for the rocket separation [and] the maximum speed of the Ravn first stage is Mach 2.85 [2,186 mph, or 3,519 km/h].”

The flight systems, which Aevum calls Minnie, has already completed about 640 flights, which included 30 satellites being launched in less than 3 hours.

Skylus says that “Aevum’s currently building a proto-flight Ravn vehicle and aims to complete the ground qualification of the entire proto-flight Ravn vehicle this year”. Their customers are able to have their satellites delivered by either calling, emailing, and even using an online app. They want to be known as the “FedEx or UPS of space,” says Skylus. “We take care of all the logistics and offer mission design at no cost to you, and you can book launches and track your satellite through our app.”

Aevum will begin testing their flights in early 2019, and already have 3 flights scheduled for later that year (if all goes perfectly during the tests, of course). Skylus says that “We’re always seeking to connect with more customers — there’s still some capacity on these three launches…Aevum’s focused on providing a delivery service that will directly enable the solutions that address global challenges that cause pain every day, which include communication and connectivity.


Cassie Thonen is a Space Reporter and Photojournalist for Star Letters.  She studied Studio Art and Design at Northern Illinois University, with a degree emphasis in Photography.  When she is not chasing rockets or staring at the stars, Cassie can be found perfecting her photography or with her dogs, Frankie and Chewie.  You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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