from the no-affiliation-with-Monty-Python dept.
A Washington-state based aerospace company has exited stealth mode by announcing plans to develop one of the holy grails of spaceflight—a single-stage-to-orbit space plane. Radian Aerospace said it is deep into the design of an airplane-like vehicle that could take off from a runway, ignite its rocket engines, spend time in orbit, and then return to Earth and land on a runway.
"We all understand how difficult this is," said Livingston Holder, Radian's co-founder, chief technology officer, and former head of the Future Space Transportation and X-33 program at Boeing.
On Wednesday, Radian announced that it had recently closed a $27.5 million round of seed funding, led by Fine Structure Ventures. To date, Radian has raised about $32 million and has 18 full-time employees at its Renton, Washington, headquarters.
During an interview with Ars, Holder and Radian CEO Richard Humphrey explained that they realized it would require significantly more funding to build such an ambitious orbital space plane. Funding will pace their development efforts. For that reason, Humphrey said he was not comfortable putting a date on the company's first test flights but said that Radian was aiming to have an operational capability well before the end of the 2020s.
The current design of Radian One calls for taking up to five people and 5,000 pounds of cargo into orbit. The vehicle would have a down-mass capability of about 10,000 pounds and be powered by three liquid-fueled engines. The idea would be to get as close to airline operations as possible, by flying, landing, re-fueling, and flying again.
Since its founding in 2016, Radian has focused on the propulsion and structure of a vehicle that must withstand a variety of thermal and pressure environments. Humphrey said the company has built and tested its first "full-scale" engine. At full power, this cryogenic-fueled engine will have a thrust of about 200,000 pounds.
[...] There can be no question that this is a hugely challenging endeavor that many people have tried before. Will Radian find the right stuff, at the right moment in time? We'd like to think so.