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World's largest fully-autonomous DRONE unveiled by US space startup will launch satellites into orbit in as little as 180 minutes

The drone is 80ft long and can fly from any runway that is at least a mile long

The drone launch system works in three stages including a rocket launcher

It gets to high altitude then the rocket carries the payload to low Earth orbit

Currently 70 per cent of the launcher system is fully reusable but the developers hope to get that up to 95 per cent with future versions of the technology

The world's first satellite launching drone, developed by a US-based space startup, will will be able to carry a new payload into orbit every 180 minutes, the firm claims.

Aevum says the massive 80ft long drone, named the Ravn X, is fully autonomous, 70 per cent reusable, and can take off and land on runways as short as a mile long.

Working in partnership with the US Space Force, the firm says it is 'completely reimagining access to space' by focusing on autonomy and better logistics.

The drone can take off from any runway to reach high altitude where it deploys a second stage that takes a small payload the rest of the way to space.

After it has launched the second stage rocket into low Earth orbit, the drone flies itself back to its home runway, lands and then parks up in its hanger.

The first launch of a satellite using the Ravn X is expected to be the US Space Force ASLON-45 small satellite launch mission in 2021.

The technology allows for satellites to be sent into orbit without a pilot, launchpad or massive rocket, which Aevum says removes the 'risk to human life'.

The drone is about as long as two school buses - about 80ft - and can carry satellites weighing up to 500kg fully autonomously with no costly infrastructure.

Developers say as well as military implications, the drone launch vehicle could help scientists quickly and cheaply put sensors into orbit for specific experiments.

'We are pushing logistics to the next generation with software and automation technologies,' said Jay Skylus, founder and CEO of Aevum.

Military and US officials have said there is a 'critical need' for extremely fast access to low Earth orbit, Skylus said, so they set out to create a system 'faster than anybody'.

'Through our autonomous technologies, Aevum will shorten the lead time of launches from years to months, and when our customers demand it, minutes. This is necessary to improve lives on Earth. This is necessary to save lives.'

Creating a drone capable of taking off, launching a rocket and landing on its own requires a global system of self-operating intelligent systems, the firm explained.

'The autonomous launch architecture optimises every launch, taking into account variables including weather conditions, air traffic, orbital destination, payload weight, ground crew schedules, and other complex logistics processes,' they said.

If the need arises Aevum says it would be able to get a new satellite into low Earth orbit every 180 minutes, according to Skylus, and do so 24 hours a day.

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