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

"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
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace