The Athena spaceplane demonstrator, built by the startup Polaris on behalf of the German Armed Forces, completed its maiden flight.
The company reported that the first test flight was carried out from the airport of Peenemünde within restricted airspace over the adjacent waters of the Baltic Sea on November 8, 2022. The demonstrator flew over a distance of about 10 kilometers (6 miles).
The Athena demonstrator was purpose-built following a contract awarded by the Bundeswehr, the German Armed Forces, in March 2022. The aircraft is 3.5 meters long, with a mass of 120 kilograms. It is powered by four turbojets and can reach a top speed of Mach 0.4 (493 kilometers per hour).
It is the third demonstrator built by Polaris. The company’s first aircraft, Stella, completed a successful flight in April 2020. In July 2021, the German Defense Ministry awarded the Bremen-based startup a €250,000 contract to study the application of its future production spaceplane, called Aurora, for reconnaissance missions.
Aurora is expected to feature a rocket engine and reach hypersonic speed. In collaboration with the Institute of Aerospace Engineering of the Technische Universität Dresden, Polaris will investigate the potential of fitting the Aurora with aerospike nozzles that use 25-30% less fuel at low altitudes, making them a perfect solution for single-stage orbital launchers.