For all of the ire and criticism directed toward the “billionaire space race” sparked by Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, humanity is getting closer to delivering not just people, but cargo through the farthest reaches of the atmosphere.
Investors seem to think so, at least, after they poured $29 million into Destinus SA in a seed funding round announced on Wednesday. The latest venture from serial Russian entrepreneur Mikhail Kokorich, who previously founded and headed up space infrastructure company Momentus (NASDAQ: MNTS), Destinus plans to build an autonomous, hydrogen-powered hypersonic aircraft capable of delivering cargo anywhere in the world.
The seed round included participation from Conny & Co., Quiet Capital, One Way Ventures, ACE & Co., and other investors who seem to be open to the possibility of hypersonic delivery.
Watch: What’s happening in the air cargo market?
“I was an investor in Mikhail’s previous company, and his development pace is incomparable,” commented Conny Boersch of Conny & Co., who joined the Destinus board as part of the funding round. “The team began flight testing with a 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.”
While the ambitious project is still in its early stages, it would add a previously unexplored mode of transport to the growing world of transportation and logistics, if it comes to fruition. Currently Destinus is working on a prototype, the Jungfrau, which would be considered a hyperplane, meaning that it doesn’t quite go to space but gets close to vacuum conditions.
The aircraft would be powered by liquid hydrogen, which is incredibly costly to produce and transport but also purports to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, at least according to some –– others disagree.
Destinus is aiming to have the aircraft fly as fast as Mach 15 –– that’s over 11,500 miles per hour –– at a cruising altitude of around 37 miles, placing it in the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere. The company plans to begin operations with a payload capacity of about 1 ton.
“We are excited about the broad support for Destinus, which further validates the potential for clean, hypersonic travel to anywhere in the world in one to two hours,” said Kokorich. “We plan to use the funding to continue the development of our hydrogen air-breathing and rocket engines and test the first supersonic flights powered by hydrogen engines in the next 12-18 months.
“We have already made significant progress and have designed and filed patents for the unique subsystems, such as a hydrogen active cooling system, enabling a highly reusable hyperplane flying at almost the speed of a rocket,” he added.
According to Kokorich, Destinus flew a smaller prototype, about the length of a car, in 2021 and plans on testing out the larger Jungfrau this year. In an interview with TechCrunch, the billionaire entrepreneur said that the company has already received permission to fly at subsonic speeds, with permission to fly at supersonic speeds hopefully coming when Destinus begins work on a third prototype after Jungfrau.
Regulations will play a role in limiting the speed at which Destinus can bring its new solution to market. With cross-border flights an essential function for its hypersonic aircraft, the company will need to navigate the complex international legal frameworks surrounding air travel.
First, though, the company needs an aircraft to fly, and $29 million in investments could go a long way toward making the hyperplane a reality.