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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. 

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"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 (opens in new tab)

"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.

"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.

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.