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Huntsville company unveils drone that can launch small satellites into low orbit mid-flight

Huntsville aerospace startup Aevum last week unveiled Ravn X, an unmanned aerial vehicle that will serve as the first of a three-stage launch system for small satellites (smallsats).

The unveiling was reported by Space News.

Ravn X, a 55,000-pound drone measuring 80 feet long with a 60-foot wingspan, can reportedly take off from any mile-long runway.

While in flight, the aircraft can reportedly release the final stages of the launch system: a two-stage rocket capable of launching 100 kilograms to 500 kilograms of payload to low orbits.

The launch system is still at least 18 months or so away from being operational, due to certification and regulatory hurdles yet to be cleared.

“This is the first time we’re showing the full vehicle, all three stages,” Aevum founder and CEO Jay Skylus told SpaceNews. “Now we will start doing vehicle level testing that’s required for air-worthiness certification and launch licensing.”

Skylus added that the subsequent testing stages will be “the hardest” part of the program.

The startup — now four years old — has already received three federal government contracts, according to the company.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) on Monday celebrated the unveiling of Ravn X in a tweet.

Ainsworth currently serves as national chairman of the Aerospace States Association.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn