Dawn Aerospace, a New Zealand-Dutch space transportation company, has conducted five flights of the company's Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane.
The flights were to assess the airframe and avionics of the prototype vehicle, and were conducted using surrogate jet engines rather than rocket engines.
The company has received about $650,000 in government funding and hopes to scale up the size of the vehicle this decade to allow it to compete with Rocket Lab and other companies capable of carrying cargo into orbit.
The test flight campaign was run from Glentanner Aerodrome on the shores of Lake Pukaki near Aoraki/Mt Cook.
Taxi testing began early last month and the five flights also occurred in July, reaching altitudes of 1000 metres.
Dawn is creating reusable and sustainable space technologies – suborbital and orbital rocket-powered planes – that operate much like a fleet of aircraft, taking off and landing horizontally at airports.
Mk-II is a suborbital plane, 4.8m long and just 75kg when empty. It is designed to fly at up to 3700km/h to 100km above the Earth, and aims to be the first vehicle to access space multiple times a day. The vehicle serves as a technology demonstrator for the two-stage-to-orbit-vehicle, the Mk-III that would deliver payloads into space.
Mk-II will also be used to capture atmospheric data for weather and climate modelling, and to conduct scientific research and technology demonstrations.
"Dawn is focussed on sustainable and scalable access to space and our Mk-II vehicle is entirely reusable," said chief executive Stefan Powell.
"The team have successfully captured extensive data enabling further R&D on the capability of Mk-II. I'm hugely proud of our engineering team for designing and building a vehicle that flies beautifully first time and just as predicted.''
Two of the test flights were within 90 minutes of each other.
On December 9 last year, Dawn announced this country's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had granted Dawn a certificate to fly Mk-II Aurora spaceplane from a conventional airport without exclusive airspace restrictions.
"We were successful in demonstrating our ability to integrate with other airspace operators," said Powell.
Planes and helicopter companies continued their operations unaffected.
''It's fantastic being part of the Glentanner Aerodrome community," said Powell.
Dawn tests various vehicles and systems in a number of locations across New Zealand's South Island, and has agreements in place with a number of potential launch locations globally.
'Tthe view is to one day emulate the aviation industry's model and, in doing so, provide unprecedented access to space; operating globally with key hubs across the world. Viewing opportunities will be publicly notified in future, but for now we're allowing our operational team to focus on the important task at hand," said Powell.
Initial testing used surrogate jet engines. The Mk-II will be fitted with a rocket engine, which is already in the later stages of testing. This will unlock higher performance for supersonic and high-altitude testing of the vehicle.
Dawn Aerospace in 2018 raised $3.35m in an investment round led by Icehouse's Tuhua Ventures, with investment from Derek Handley's Aera VC, as well as Erik Swan, the founder of Splunk, a Nasdaq-listed software company .
It has worked closely with the NZ Space Agency (NZSA) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The company has also received around $150,000 through Callaghan Innovation. The grant of $500,000 from the NZSA is aimed at developing non-toxic satellite propulsion.
Christchurch headquartered, the company also has a major facility in Delft, The Netherlands.