Cargo deliveries by drone dropped from an autonomous aircraft sounds out of this world but that’s the idea behind Aevum’s new model to use its space plane to bring goods and supplies to anywhere in the world.
Aevum, a space logistics company, unveiled its unpiloted aircraft, the Ravn X, late last year designed to carry payloads inside a rocket to altitude for plane-assisted launches. The company was founded by Jay Skylus in 2016 and is set to begin test flights from Cecil Space Port in Jacksonville later this year. Its first customers will be the U.S. Space Force.
But the company’s latest announcement is more down to Earth. Aevum recently received a U.S. patent for its adaptive autonomous aircraft system to be used to carry not just satellites but to swap the booster out for a cargo module and make deliveries to runaways or using smaller drones to homes anywhere.
The aircraft is reusable and carries the rocket and payloads to orbit in minutes and is completely autonomous. Without a pilot, Aevum’s Ravn X is technically the largest drone in the world by mass.
Skylus thought it would be a shame to leave Ravn X just waiting in the hangar between satellite launches and has been working to grow the company’s business model to use the plane to make cargo deliveries up to 15,000 pounds, or many personalized deliveries.
Through its patented drone module Aevum will begin personal delivery services, carrying up to 264 smaller drones, each one with individual packages weighing up to 55 pounds. Ravn X will fly up to 14,000 feet in the air and release the smaller drones with their packages.
As long as there is an internet connection the possibilities are endless, according to the Aevum founder. Customers can schedule deliveries from their computer or smartphone via Aevum’s Space Portal and app.
“Imagine if you could get your package delivered when rounding the corner on your walk to work,” Skylus said. “As you approach the corner, Aevum’s app will notify you that your package is inbound. You turn the corner, and an Aevum drone gently sets your package in front of you. Deliveries are no longer limited to physical addresses. If you’ve got a smartphone, we can deliver to where it’s most convenient to you.”
It’s possible Ravn X could launch a satellite, return to the runaway in Jacksonville, then load up with a supply run for New York. The company will seek an air worthiness certification from the Federal Aviation Administration so the aircraft could take off and land anywhere, even remote runways.
There is no pilot required on Ravn X, part of the reason Aevum officials say they are able to keep costs down. Only a few workers are required to load up the cargo runs and even the orbital launchers.
“Why not do business with a small village in Africa? We don’t need a paved runway either. As long as there is flat area, we could land there,” Skylus said. “It’ll be interesting to see how this capability enables ideas.”
The company eventually plans to have a fleet of Ravn X aircraft on standby ready for use 24 hours a day.
Skylus sees it as an opportunity for smaller businesses and bigger customers such as Amazon or the U.S. military. The service could compete with 18-wheeler tractor trailers that haul up to 30,000-pounds of goods from one end of the country to the next. The Aevum air cargo module could carry more than 15,000 pounds at 600 mph, 10 times faster than an 18-wheeler, according to Skylus.
It’s also a business move for Aevum, moving into the $270 billion-air cargo industry as well as being a small satellite launcher.
“To me this is very obvious, we’re the first to do it. This is what everyone is trying to get to,” Skylus said, adding he “wouldn’t be surprised to see others doing this soon. We have to stop thinking space as separate from the world. We’re all one economy. It should all work together.”
Asked if Amazon is a potential competitor with its mass-delivery system via truck, drone and plane, Skylus said it’s possible the company could be a customer.
“We don’t do warehousing and distribution. They have the e-commerce side where they handle all the front end of the logistics,” Skylus said. “What we could potentially do - when one Amazon warehouse has a surplus (or deficiency) ... they might send a big truck to move inventory, but now, we can provide that service -- take to their other distribution hub, at least 10 times faster.”
The 5-year-old company is still working toward its first launch for the U.S. Space Force but Skylus said achieving certification for space and air deliveries can happen in tandem.
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