New Zealand’s Dawn Aerospace licensed to fly spaceplane from NZ airports

Image courtesy of Dawn Aerospace

Dawn Aerospace, a New Zealand company developing suborbital spaceplanes, has been granted an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certificate to fly a suborbital spaceplane from a conventional airport in New Zealand. The certificate was issued by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), under the country’s Civil Aviation Rule Part 102.

This is a world first in allowing suborbital spaceplanes without the need for restricted airspace, and without the need to shut down airspace and have exclusion zones, as is typical for rocket launches.

The first flights will begin in 2021 from a remote airport, in an uninhabited area, on the South Island of New Zealand. These will be of Dawn’s new suborbital spaceplane, the Dawn Mk-II Aurora. This is is the latest development in a series of test vehicles that will one-day launch satellites into space, with the company aiming for multiple flights a day.

Dawn has worked closely with CAA over the last 18 months to design flight procedures and systems. These ensure Dawn can safely integrate with other aircraft users without the need to exclude them from airspace. The New Zealand Space Agency (NZSA) 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.

“The challenge of getting to space is equal parts the vehicle, the launch infrastructure and the regulation,” said Dawn’s Chief Technical Officer, Stefan Powell. “We have made great strides in revolutionising 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.”

“CAA and the NZSA are showing that innovative and future-proof regulation is a reality in New Zealand,” said James Powell, CAA’s GM and Head of Certification. “It’s not easy, but is the product of the tireless efforts of the CAA and NZSA to keep New Zealand at the leading edge of aerospace innovation. We couldn’t do this anywhere else in the world.”

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