No pilot required: Space startup Aevum reveals sleek autonomous launch vehicle

Ravn X will liftoff from Jacksonville’s Cecil Spaceport

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A private space startup has been keeping its head down until it revealed a sleek aircraft-assisted rocket set to begin launching missions for the U.S. Space Force from Jacksonville. The kicker? It’s all autonomous.

Aevum was founded in Hunstville, Alabama in 2016 by Jay Skylus and rolled out the Ravn X aircraft rocket carrier at Cecil Space Port Thursday.

Skylus, who grew up in Alabama, told WKMG he founded the company to improve people’s lives. Specifically, Skylus founded the company to help improve military communication for soldiers overseas.

The company name is a scholastic philosophy term referring to the mode of existence of angels and saints or for this space startup, the area between Earth and space.

“If you exist in Aevum, then you are almost living in a utopian world,” Skylus said. “Aevum is not just a launch company, it’s a value that we offer to our customers ... but my vision is so much more than launch. We don’t want to create tech just to create tech.”

Aevum CEO Jay Skylus (Image credit: Aevum)
Aevum CEO Jay Skylus (Image credit: Aevum) (Aevum)

The plane will carry the small satellite rocket to launch, similar to Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus rocket or what Virgin Orbit is doing with LauncherOne and its Cosmic Girl jetliner but RavnX doesn’t look like any plane.

The smooth-styled aircraft is reusable and carries the rocket and payloads to orbit in minutes and is completely autonomous, meaning there is no pilot on this plane.

While Skylus said it Ravn X was not designed with beauty in mind, “it has a kick ass factor.”

With a 60 ft. wingspan Ravn X can liftoff from any 1-mile long runway and uses the same fuel as any other plane. After delivering the payload, the aircraft will return and land, parking itself in a hangar. The whole process takes about 180 minutes and requires only about six people to launch.

Aevum CEO and founder Jay Skylus with the Ravn X autonomous launch vehicle and aircraft.
Aevum CEO and founder Jay Skylus with the Ravn X autonomous launch vehicle and aircraft. (Aevum)

The aircraft announcement was made Thursday with help from the Space Force, the company’s first customer. Ravn X will launch three small satellites for the military branch under the Air Force.

“I’m excited to see the bold innovation and responsiveness in development today by our small launch industry partners to support emerging warfighter needs,” Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, Chief of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Small Launch and Targets Division, said. “The U.S. Space Force is proactively partnering with industry to support U.S. space superiority objectives. Having a robust U.S. industry providing responsive launch capability is key to ensuring the U.S. Space Force can respond to future threats.”

The company has been awarded government contracts totaling more than $1 billion, including its first mission ASLON-45 for the Space Force.

Ravn X can launch from most runways but its first and primary home will be in Jacksonville.

Skylus said after performing a survey in 2017 of all the licensed spaceports in the U.S. Cecil came out on top for a few reasons.

“Cecil spaceport was by far the most mature, oldest spaceport license at the time,” Skylus said, adding Cecil is “very mission-oriented, people there are passionate about aviation.”

Scrubs due to weather are a thorn in the side of any launch provider because Ravn X can launch in the same weather a commercial aircraft can Skylus hopes to see weather delays become a thing of the past.

“We have a different (launch) window, our autonomous pilot can navigate around bad weather,” Skylus said. “Once Aevum starts launching weather, scrubs will be similar to a delay in your commercial flight.”

Aevum also provides more than the ride to space but the logistics to make it happen.

During the reveal Thursday, Skylus showed how a customer, using the Aevum interface, could pick a launch date, time and payload. On a livestream, Ravn X started up in the Cecil Spaceport hangar with the click of a button.

“You’re able to pick up the phone and get your stuff into space in a week,” Skylus said. “When you start factoring that into your budget we’ll start blowing the large rockets out of the water.”

Aevum plans to demonstrate an autonomous flight soon with its first mission for Space Force launching soon after.

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