Skip to main content

Dawn Aerospace aims to launch New Zealand's 1st space plane from a conventional airport

A New Zealand-based company has received approval to fly a suborbital space plane from a conventional airport.

Dawn Aerospace got the nod from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to fly the company's Mk-II Aurora space plane, which is designed to send satellites into space on multiple flights a day, at a conventional airport whose name and location has not been disclosed yet.

Usually such vehicles need to be launched at isolated facilities, because otherwise regulators need to shut down the local commercial air space to allow the space planes to fly out of the atmosphere. 

Related: Space planes: evolution of the winged spaceship (infographic)

Image 1 of 2

Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane.

Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane. (Image credit: Dawn Aerospace)
Image 2 of 2

Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane.

Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane. (Image credit: Dawn Aerospace)

"The challenge of getting to space is equal parts the vehicle, the launch infrastructure and the regulation," Dawn chief technical officer Stefan Powell said in a statement

"We have made great strides in revolutionizing the hardware. Today is a significant step towards the rest; showing we can fly from one of the thousands of civilian airports around the world, and do so without kicking other aircraft out of their airspace. This is the key to rapid, reusable and sustainable spaceflight."

Putting Dawn Aerospace's vehicle at an airport may, in the long run, reduce costs and other complications, the company added in the statement. The company and CAA spent 18 months designing flight procedures and systems to let Dawn's planes fly safely along with commercial flights at the airport.

Image 1 of 6

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane.

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane. (Image credit: Dawn Aerospace)
Image 2 of 6

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane.

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane. (Image credit: Dawn Aerospace)
Image 3 of 6

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane.

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane. (Image credit: Dawn Aerospace)
Image 4 of 6

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane.

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane. (Image credit: Dawn Aerospace)
Image 5 of 6

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane.

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane. (Image credit: Dawn Aerospace)
Image 6 of 6

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane.

An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's Mk-II Aurora space plane. (Image credit: Dawn Aerospace)

"The New Zealand Space Agency has also played a key role in ensuring that this certification will work in combination with a high-altitude vehicle license, thus providing access in time to suborbital space," Dawn stated.

The first test flights of Mk-II Aurora will happen in 2021 in a more isolated airspace, at an undisclosed "remote airport" in the south island of New Zealand, Dawn said.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.