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Germany’s space UAS “Athena” flies for first time

Athena during flight trials. Photo: Bundeswehr

The German defense ministry’s turbojet-powered space aircraft demonstrator “Athena” completed its initial flight tests during the autumn of 2022, with construction of an enlarged model “Nova” already planned for 2023. 

The research and technology project involving the turbojet-powered space aircraft demonstrator is being conducted in close collaboration between industry and the German military, with a focus on developing a new reconnaissance system and exploring the potential for use as a satellite delivery system.

The project has the potential to offer new capabilities to the German armed forces. The military technical service center for aircraft and aeronautical equipment in Manching (WTM 61) is playing a key role in the project, with involvement from the “Drone Innovation Hub” and the center of excellence for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAS).

Athena completed its trials at the Peenemünde airfield located on the island of Usedom in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, which provided a secluded location and a 2,400-meter-long runway that extended directly into the Baltic Sea, meeting all the requirements for the tests. Additionally, a temporary restricted flight area was set up in order to minimize the risks involved in the initial flight tests.

The Athena was constructed by Polaris Raumflugzeuge GmbH for the Bundeswehr, measuring 3.5 meters in length and weighing approximately 120 kilograms.

According to the company, Athena features beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) telemetry and semi-automated flight control systems, and is designed for the later integration of a liquid-fuel rocket engine. Due to its higher mass, performance and BVLOS capability, the vehicle was required to fulfil a comprehensive regulatory framework, including dedicated vehicle operation license, restricted airspace implementation, long-range radio/telemetry licenses, environmental assessment and a special insurance. For emergency cases, ATHENA is also equipped with a redundant flight termination system (FTS).