Dawn Aerospace are making waves by completely rethinking how sustainability and the space industry can co-exist.

Leading the new-age space race

There are currently over 4,500 active satellites in space, each working to track weather patterns, provide GPS location information and beam internet signals to far corners of the earth.

But as these satellites are sent up to space, the rockets used to get them there either become space trash or are sent back into the atmosphere to burn up. The space industry is suffering from a single-use problem.

Co-founded by Stefan Powell in 2017, Dawn Aerospace is on a path to become a leader in the green-aerospace industry, working to create the first reusable space vehicle that "marries the performance of a rocket to the reusability of an aircraft, and non-toxic propellants for satellites" Powell says.

Time is money

Now, Dawn Aerospace is one of the companies leading the charge in renewable and sustainable space transportation technology, from right here in New Zealand. Kiwibank has been the bank of Dawn Aerospace since it set up its New Zealand headquarters. Powell says it was his personal experiences banking with us that sealed the deal.

I always knew that they were really easy to deal with, not too many thrills and no unnecessary difficulties. What we want out of a bank is just a service that works and is reliable."
Stefan Powell, Dawn Aerospace Co-founder

For Powell, time is money, so they needed a provider that would give them all the business banking basics on time, every time.

"We're doing a bunch of stuff that's really difficult, and our time is precious because that's our ability to solve problems – we're just solving problems as fast as we can. We needed a service that we could rely on, and that's about it. It didn't have to be more complicated than that."

One small step for Dawn

Powell's journey into space technology started at a student rocket club in the Netherlands, where he was studying towards a degree in aerospace engineering. The club, Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering, created the largest student rocket in the world at the time, but the team found it hard to commercialise their technology once it was developed.

[The student rocket used] a new type of motor that was maybe 20% or 30% better but that just wasn't enough to be interesting. Once you get to 10 times better we start to be able to change humanity and how we access space."
Stefan Powell, Dawn Aerospace Co-founder

Powell knew in order to make a real difference in the aerospace industry, and attract attention from funders, they needed a product that was dramatically better than the status quo – and that reusable space tech could achieve that. Now, with offices in New Zealand and the Netherlands, the team at Dawn Aerospace is working to create reusable and sustainable space technologies that are reimagining the possibilities of space travel.

"How do we get to space 1,000 times more than we are now? How do we move 1,000 times as many things around in space as what we currently are? We need completely different technologies, and we really need to think about reusability and sustainability to do 1,000 times more of what we're doing without destroying the earth."

This is rising to the challenge

Combined with the expertise provided from their team in the Netherlands – a country that has been contributing to aerospace technology development for more than 100 years – Dawn Aerospace's well-rounded skill set has seen them soar as a small business. Aside from the commercial success, they were awarded Startup Company of the Year in 2020 and Best Emerging Business 2021 at the New Zealand Business Awards.

Dawn is already making real headway in changing space mobility for the better. Their line of ‘green’ propulsion for satellites, using non toxic yet high performance fuels, is finding great success in the market. As of May 2022, Dawn has over 27 propulsion units in space on six satellites, and over 200 more units in production for customers from the US, Europe, Japan, India and Indonesia.

In the future, Powell wants to create a reusable and sustainable space transportation network. That network will be the infrastructure backbone to enable new services and capabilities on Earth.

Honestly, we don’t know exactly what people will be doing in space in 30 years from now. In the mid-90s you couldn't imagine that so much of your life would be online – that we could talk via video chat. We want to enable these things that you can't even dream of yet. Dawn is working to make that future a reality."
Stefan Powell, Dawn Aerospace Co-founder