Cosmic Tech

Air Force picks its builders for a swoopy kind of aircraft

Get ready for another prototype airplane that looks as if it flew straight out of a science-fiction novel.

The Department of the Air Force has selected JetZero’s design for a prototype aircraft that has a swoopy blended wing body, or BWB, rather than the typical tube-and-wing look.

The design has the potential to decrease aerodynamic drag by at least 30% and provide additional lift. This could translate into extended range, more loiter time and increased payload delivery efficiencies for the Air Force.

“Blended wing body aircraft have the potential to significantly reduce fuel demand and increase global reach,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in a news release. “Moving forces and cargo quickly, efficiently, and over long distance is a critical capability to enable national security strategy.”

Commercial aviation could benefit as well. “The BWB is the best first step on the path to zero carbon emissions,” JetZero CEO Tom O’Leary said in a news release. “It offers 50% lower fuel burn using today’s engines, and the airframe efficiency needed to support a transition to zero carbon emissions propulsion in the future. No other proposed aircraft comes close in terms of efficiency.”


Radian raises $27.5 million for orbital space plane

More than five years after its founding, Renton, Wash.-based Radian Aerospace is emerging from stealth mode and reporting a $27.5 million seed funding round to support its plans to build an orbital space plane.

The round was led by Boston-based Fine Structure Ventures, with additional funding from EXOR, The Venture Collective, Helios Capital, SpaceFund, Gaingels, The Private Shares Fund, Explorer 1 Fund, Type One Ventures and other investors.

Radian has previously brought in pre-seed investments, but the newly announced funding should accelerate its progress.

One of the company’s investors and strategic advisers, former Lockheed Martin executive Doug Greenlaw, said Radian was going after the “Holy Grail” of space access with a fully reusable system that would provide for single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) launches.

It’ll take much more than $27.5 million to grab the grail: In the late 1990s, NASA spent nearly a billion dollars on Lockheed Martin’s X-33 single-stage-to-orbit concept before the project was canceled in 2001. But Radian’s executives argue that technological advances have now brought the SSTO vision within reach.


Radian pursues stealthy plan for space plane

For years, Renton, Wash.-based Radian Aerospace has been working on a rocket project while holding its cards close to the vest. Now several of the big puzzle pieces have been put together to reveal what Radian’s executives and backers have in mind: a rail-launched space plane that could carry passengers to orbit and back.

The key piece, as reported by Business Insider, is a presentation that Radian CEO Richard Humphrey delivered to potential investors during a virtual conference in June. Citing the presentation, Business Insider said the venture was seeking $20 million in a Series A funding round. The money would fund further development of the orbital launch system, with an eye toward beginning flights to orbit as soon as 2025, Business Insider said.

The video presentation doesn’t appear to be publicly available, and Radian did not respond to my emailed request for more information. In fact, I’ve made inquiries with Radian executives numerous times — by email, by phone and in person at space industry conferences — ever since the venture reported raising $350,000 in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2016.

Despite Radian’s stealthiness, there’s ample evidence that the venture’s plan is more than a pack of PowerPoint slides.

In 2017, for example, Radian struck a deal with the Port of Bremerton to lease a half-acre of land at Bremerton National Airport for a rocket engine test facility. A prototype engine has reportedly gone through many firings, and Radian would like to expand the Bremerton facility.

Radian also is seeking a patent for a concept that calls for launching a winged single-stage-to-orbit craft with an initial boost from a rocket-powered sled on rails. One diagram that’s included in the application shows the plane docking with a space station, shuttle-style. At the end of each mission, the plane would make a horizontal, airplane-style landing on a runway.

Radian says the plane’s design was inspired by Boeing’s concept for a Reusable Aerodynamic Space Vehicle, or RASV, which was proposed in the early 1970s but never built.


Radian Aerospace gears up for rocket engine tests

Bremerton National Airport
Aerial imagery shows Bremerton National Airport. (Google Maps Photo)

The Kitsap Sun reports that Radian Aerospace, a stealthy startup headquartered in Renton, Wash., will begin testing rocket engines next year at a facility that’s under construction on a half-acre parcel of land next to an abandoned runway at the southeast corner of Bremerton National Airport.

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