Dawn Aerospace, an aerospace company, has achieved a major milestone in the development of its Mk-II Aurora spaceplane. The company successfully conducted a full-duration, bi-propellant test of the Mk-IIA engine, firing it for an impressive 112 seconds at their test facility in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The Mk-IIA engine will be installed in the Mk-II Aurora, which serves as a subscale technology demonstrator for Dawn’s ambitious Mk-III project. The Mk-III aims to provide a two-stage to orbit solution for scalable and sustainable space access.
Prior to this successful test, the Mk-II Aurora had already completed 50 test flights, with 47 utilizing jet engines and 3 powered by rockets in March 2023. Dawn’s propulsion team has been tirelessly working on enhancements in preparation for the next round of flight tests. These tests will push the vehicle to supersonic speeds and altitudes exceeding 20km in early 2024, marking the completion of the Mk-IIA test campaign.
One of the key features of the rocket engine used in the Mk-II Aurora is its utilization of HTP (high-test peroxide) and kerosene as propellants instead of the more commonly used liquid oxygen. This choice was made due to the storability and deep throttling capabilities of HTP and kerosene, which are crucial factors as Dawn Aerospace aims to establish a global fleet of spaceplanes with aircraft-like operations.
Ralph Huijsman, Lead Propulsion Engineer at Dawn Aerospace, highlighted the challenges faced during the engine’s development due to limited and outdated information about HTP. However, he expressed his excitement about overcoming these obstacles and achieving this significant milestone. CEO Stefan Powell also commended the team’s hard work and expressed anticipation for future flights that will reach even higher altitudes and faster speeds.
Looking ahead, the next phase in the development roadmap for the Mk-IIA involves testing critical aspects of operating the vehicle, such as high-altitude operations and BVLOS flights (beyond visual line of sight). Furthermore, the Mk-IIB, which will incorporate the lessons learned from the Mk-IIA, aims to become an optimized vehicle for flights to 100 km. If successful, it will be the first vehicle capable of flying to space twice in a single day. The Mk-IIB is expected to have various commercial applications, including atmospheric, microgravity, and high-speed flight research, as well as earth observation.
Dawn Aerospace’s recent achievements and future plans demonstrate their commitment to advancing space access technology and pushing the boundaries of aerospace innovation.