Plans underway by Swiss-start-up Destinus to develop a hydrogen-powered autonomous "near-space" hypersonic aircraft received a boost this week when it closed a $29 million seed funding round. The start-up expects to build the first full-scale prototype ready to start flight testing in 2025 or 2026 and believes it can get an initial cargo-carrying aircraft certified and in commercial service by 2027.
The funds raised from several venture capital groups and private backers will be used to develop the hydrogen airbreathing and rocket engines that will power the unnamed hyperplane aircraft. Destinus intends to use a hydrogen-fed air turborocket (ATR) engine for takeoff, landing, and flights at subsonic and supersonic speeds. A separate cryogenic rocket engine will boost the aircraft to hypersonic speeds that the company said would allow it to reach anywhere in the world in just one or two hours, operating at altitudes far above existing aircraft in the mesophere.
Early versions of the hyperplane are expected to have a payload capacity of around one metric ton (2,200 pounds), which Destinus says would be useful for moving emergency relief supplies to where they are needed. According to founder and CEO Mikhail Kokorich, subsequent versions of the aircraft “will deliver tens of tons of shipments between global hyperports linked to customers using subsonic hydrogen and electric aircraft.” He told FutureFlight that later plans envisage passenger-carrying versions.
Having flown an initial sub-scale prototype called the Jungfrau (after the Swiss mountain) in November 2021, Destinus intends to fly more hyperplane prototypes within the next 12 to 18 months. These will be powered initially by an existing turbojet engine and later by the ATR.
The subscale prototypes will be used to work on aerodynamics, flight dynamics, autonomous systems, and control algorithms, with the first supersonic flight planned before the end of 2022. Subsequent prototypes will incorporate the ATR and the rocket engine that will eventually test the vehicle at hypersonic speeds between 2023 and 2024
Destinus has started discussions with prospective operators of the aircraft to help define key requirements and market dynamics that would guide design and development work. “We plan to advance to discussions about potential orders after we cross the sound barrier with our first hydrogen turbo rocket engine,” Kokorich explained.
The company has yet to publish a projected list price for the unnamed production version of the hyperplane aircraft. Kokorich said that it will likely have to spend several hundred million dollars to produce a minimum viable product version.
Destinus said it has already begun talks with EASA and other aviation regulators about the basis for certifying this new type of aircraft, which, for now, is approved to fly only at subsonic speeds. “Our first two prototypes will be tested in subsonic autonomous mode,” Kokorich said. “With the third prototype, we will start supersonic tests. All prototypes are to be tested and flown as experimental aircraft, under the appropriate certification class, and in segregated airspace. Our hyperplanes will use a combination of navigational techniques, including satellite navigation inertial systems.”
The initial seed funding has come from several venture capital groups and private investors in Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asia. These included Conny & Co, Quiet Capital, One Way Ventures, Liquid2 Ventures, Cathexis Ventures, and Ace & Company.
Cornelius Boersch, founder of Conny & Co and Mountain Partners, has joined the board of Destinus. The technology angel investor has backed more than 400 new ventures over the past 25 years.
“I was an investor in Mikhail’s previous company [Momentus], and his development pace is incomparable,” Boersch commented. “The team began flight testing with a [subscale] prototype less than six months after the company’s foundation. In addition to his technical and engineering experience, Mikhail is also one of the most organized and structured founders I have ever met.”
In addition to its headquarters in Vaud, Switzerland, Destinus has facilities in Munich; Madrid; and Toulouse, France. It has patent applications pending for various subsystems, including a hydrogen active cooling system.
The company’s 50-strong engineering team has been recruited from organizations including Arianespace, Airbus, Boeing, the European Space Agency, Dassault Aviation, and German aerospace research group DLR, as well as aircraft engine manufacturers Rolls-Royce and Safran. It says it will expand its payroll to around 100 people in 2022.