Radian Aerospace, based in the Seattle suburb of Renton, Washington, announced Jan. 19 it had closed a $27.5 million seed round led by venture capital fund Fine Structure Ventures. Other investors include from EXOR, The Venture Collective, Helios Capital, SpaceFund, Gaingels, The Private Shares Fund, Explorer 1 Fund and Type One Ventures.
Radian Aerospace firm may have found the holy grail of spaceflight, after revealing plans to build a fully reusable spaceplane that can take off and land from a runway.
For the past few years, Radian Aerospacehas been working on rocket engine development at its Renton headquarters and at a testing facility near Bremerton, Wash. Ars Technica reported that the liquid-fueled engine is designed to provide about 200,000 pounds of thrust, and that the space plane would be powered by three of the engines. The current design would support carrying up to five people and 5,000 pounds of cargo into orbit, Ars Technica reported.
Radian Aerospace, which had been in stealth mode before this funding announcement, is working on a spaceplane concept called Radian One. The vehicle is designed to take off from a runway, carrying people and “light cargo” to low Earth orbit before returning to a runway landing. Radian One, when finished it will be a fully reusable, single stage to orbit vehicle, that can be turned around and reflown within 48 hours.
The craft would have a ‘sled-assist take-off’, taking off subsonically with full propellant tanks, with a low-G ascent for safe crew flight to low Earth orbit. Once in orbit, missions could range from once around the Earth, in about 90 minutes, to a full five day cruise.
When returning to the Earth after the trip to space, wings allow it to land smoothly on any 10,000ft runway – and be ready to go again two days later. This would allow it to land at most of the major UK airports, including Heathrow, Manchester, Gatwick, Birmingham and Stansted.
That vision of “airline-like” access to space has long been a dream for space advocates and entrepreneurs. That was particularly true in the 1990s, when several companies pursued efforts for single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) reusable launch vehicles. That included a NASA program called the X-33 intended to develop a suborbital prototype of an SSTO vehicle.
“I’ve worked in the space arena for my entire career. This is particularly gratifying for me because I think it would be kind of a culminating activity,” Holder said. “I believe that we are going to be the knee in the curve of human spaceflight for the world. I think our system will probably be as transformational as any new human spaceflight system.”
Holder was part of the U.S. Air Force’s Manned Spaceflight Engineer program in the 1980s — and went on to become a program manager at Boeing, focusing on reusable space systems. The design for Radian Aerospace space plane was inspired by Boeing’s 1970s-era concept for a Reusable Aerodynamic Space Vehicle, or RASP. Radian Aerospace says its space plane, called Radian One, would make sled-assisted takeoffs and airplane-like runway landings, with a turnaround time of as little as 48 hours between missions.
Radian Aerospace has disclosed few technical details about the Radian One design. The seed round “essentially helps us transition more robustly into the hardware development phase,” Holder said. The company’s work to date has focused on the conceptual design and a few key technologies, such as test-firing “critical elements” of the vehicle’s main propulsion system.
Previously, Radian Aerospace pursues an unorthodox plan for orbital space plane “Over time, we intend to make space travel nearly as simple and convenient as airliner travel,” said Richard Humphrey, Radian’s CEO and co-founder. “We are not focused on tourism, we are dedicated to missions that make life better on our own planet, like research, in-space manufacturing and terrestrial observation, as well as critical new missions like rapid global delivery right here on Earth.”
“Radian Aerospace is leveraging a unique combination of technologies with an optimized business model to unlock what I like to call ‘the potential of space,’” said Doug Greenlaw, a former Lockheed Martin executive who is an investor and adviser to Radian, in a statement. “We’re talking about materially enabling an industry that’s expected to grow to $1.4 trillion in less than a decade.”
Radian Aerospace currently has nearly 20 employees, and Holder said the company will hire more people as it advances work on the spaceplane. One challenge hiring people so far, he acknowledged, was that the company was in stealth mode and thus prospective employees had little to go on when considering working for Radian Aerospace.
The company hasn’t announced a timetable for development or operations, but its founders hope to have the plane available to service commercial space stations that could be in orbit by the 2030s. Radian Aerospace says it already has launch service agreements with commercial space station ventures as well as in-space manufacturers, satellite operators and cargo companies, plus agreements with the U.S. government and “selected foreign governments.” For what it’s worth, one of Radian’s early-stage investors is Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings.