Aevum is a startup in Alabama. Its intent is to build a drone called Raven X, one powered by a jet engine, to carry a rocket to altitude and launch
it. The rocket, a two stager, then places a 100 kg payload into orbit. Three weeks ago, this seemed like a pipe dream: there are LOTS of launcher
companies that come and go, the industry is littered with their proverbial corpses. Suddenly, Aevum is no longer a long shot. Why?
THE USAF has a program to cultivate new launchers. They had been working with Vector Aerospace, a launcher company with some folks who are
experienced in the field. However, in the beginning of August, the company suddenly suspended operations despite having just won a multimillion
dollar ($3.4M) contract with the USAF.
From the same program, Aevum had only picked up $50k. However, suddenly, with Vector's meltdown, the USAF shifted Vector's award (and then some) to
Aevum. Aevum now has a $4.9M contract under the launcher program. While I do think the USAF is trying to encourage more startups, especially in
responsive space launches, I think there might be something a little deeper here.
Any and all technologies developed using US government funds are US gov property. That is why it is often better to develop the tech yourself and
then seek a government contract to do testing. The testing data is the gov's but not the underlying technology being testing. Aevum, if this is a
true development contract, would basically hand over its tech to the USAF. What does that buy the USAF?
Again, it does give the USAF a new, versatile launcher able to takeoff on short notice and put small sats in orbit. This is something the USAF has
wanted for ages. It has tried, numerous times, to get this capability and the closest it has is the Pegasus, but Northrop doesn't keep much hardware
around for it and the Pegasus ain't cheap.
Before I go any further, let me say, this idea is honestly a stretch, so don't read too much into it.
However, what could the USAF do with a drone able to carry a big fat rocket underneath?
My suspicion is the mass of that rocket Aevum is planning to sling underneath happens to be comparable in mass to a hypersonic missile. If Aevum can
deliver the drone for the cost of $4.9M, it's not a bad bargain from the USAF POV. Then you have the possibility the USAF could buy a nontrivial
fleet of them: these could be used both for orbital launches /and/ as a swarm carrying hypersonic missiles. The USAF talked about atrritable
What if that applies to the launchers of hypersonic missiles? Imagine rather than trying to bag single B-52s there are a hundred or more Ravens?
Whether Aevum delivers all the drones or the tech gets ingested into a big defense contractor like so many of Karem's efforts, either way, the USAF
would win. Both for its potential prompt launch /and/ as an attritable hypersonic missile carrier.
And that, my friends, is why I think the USAF is willing to award a $4.9M contract to a bitty company.
Now then, ATS, how stupid am I being?