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Radian Aerospace, a Seattle-area startup, is focused on developing an orbital space plane and is currently fine-tuning the design of the aircraft, with plans to build a subscale prototype by the end of the year. The company recently completed a round of fundraising and is in the process of securing additional investment to support its ambitious project. Radian is working on creating a reusable winged space plane that would be launched towards low Earth orbit by a rocket-propelled sled and its own rocket engines, a concept known as single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) which is seen as a cost-effective method for accessing space.

Livingston Holder, Radian’s co-founder and chief technology officer, has been involved in aerospace for many years and gained experience working on an SSTO project for NASA in the 1990s. With advancements in materials, such as composite materials, and analysis tools and techniques, Holder and his team at Radian have the opportunity to pursue the development of the SSTO concept. The space plane, called Radian One, is designed to carry up to five crew members to low Earth orbit, with a payload capacity of 5,000 pounds going up and 10,000 pounds coming down.

Radian Aerospace has partnered with NASA’s Glenn Research Center to test its Thermal Protection System Engineering Development Unit and is working on developing a propulsion system that uses methane and liquid oxygen as propellants. The design for the propulsion system has been updated to include five rocket engines instead of three, with plans to build the engines in partnership with a yet-to-be-named company. The company is also exploring the use of three additional rocket engines on Radian One’s sled launcher to provide an initial push before the space plane takes over.

Although technically based in Renton, Washington, Radian Aerospace has a distributed workforce of around two dozen employees, which is expected to increase with the growth of the company. The company aims to expand its presence in the Seattle area and is planning to establish a design experience center for integrating hardware components. Radian is planning to conduct a test flight of a subscale prototype aircraft later this year to gather insights into the flight characteristics of the system. The full-scale Radian One is expected to make its first flight by 2030, coinciding with NASA’s transition to a new generation of commercial space stations.

Radian One could potentially support Defense Department missions for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and space domain awareness, due to its ability to provide on-demand launch capability, land on any suitable runway, and have a quick mission turnaround time. While Radian Aerospace faces competition from established players like SpaceX, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin, the company believes it can carve out a profitable niche in the future orbital transportation landscape. Holder envisions Radian Aerospace as a component in the larger space transportation ecosystem, similar to how different vehicles are used in terrestrial transportation systems to fulfill specific roles.

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