Destinus raises $29 million for hypersonic plane

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SAN FRANCISCO – Destinus SA, the Swiss startup founded by serial entrepreneur Mikhail Kokorich, has raised 26.8 million Swiss francs ($29 million) for its campaign to offer hydrogen-powered supersonic flight.

Investors include Conny & Co, a Swiss investment company founded by angel investor Cornelius Boersch, Quiet Capital and Liquid2 Ventures of San Francisco, Boston-based One Way Ventures, Cathexis Ventures of Houston and Geneva-based Ace & Company.

Destinus is developing a vehicle that takes off and lands horizontally under the power of airbreathing jet engines. Once out of controlled airspace, Destinus’ hyperplane is designed to accelerate to hypersonic speeds with the help of a cryogenic hydrogen-fueled rocket engine, according to the company’s Feb. 8 news release.

Destinus has been testing airbreathing engines during flight tests of an unpiloted prototype. By the end of the year, the company aims to show its prototype can break the sound barrier, Kokorich said by email.

“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,” Kokorich said in a statement.

Kokorich is well known in the space sector after founding or co-founding Dauria Aerospace, Astro Digital, Helios Wire and Momentus. Kokorich, who also served as Momentus CEO, and Momentus co-founder Lev Khasis divested their shares in the company after the Defense Department raised concerns about foreign ownership of the U.S.

After leaving Momentus in early 2021, Kokorich moved from California to Switzerland to establish Destinus and pursue a childhood dream to make “travel almost instantaneously to any place on Earth,” he said.

Boersch, who also invested in Momentus, said in a statement that he was pleased with Destinus’  “incomparable” development pace. Within four months of establishing Destinus, a prototype was undergoing flight tests, said Boersch, a certified European Super Angel, which means the European Investment Fund matches his investment in startups.

Destinus’ hyperplanes initially will serve the rapidly growing air cargo market.

“We see a market for ultra-fast freight that can reduce express delivery times anywhere globally from the current 48-72 hours to 6-12 hours or less,” Kokorich said. Destinus could begin offering cargo service with “a relatively small vehicle that can carry on the order of a ton to anywhere,” he added.

In the long run, Destinus intends to transport people as well as cargo.

“In the future, we certainly plan to use our technology to build passenger hyperplanes that can transport tens to hundreds of people from Europe to Australia in an hour and a half, for example,” Kokorich said. “However, since hyperplane cargo will be a well-established application at that time, the adoption gap will be lessened.”

Hydrogen-fueled engines and active cooling systems will allow cargo and eventually people “to travel at incredible speed” without harming the environment, Kokorich said. “We produce no carbon dioxide and minimal nitrogen oxide emissions,” he added.

Since the startup was founded in March, Destinus has assembled a team of more than 50 engineers and managers with expertise in rocket engines, air-breathing propulsion, cryogenic systems, aircraft and drones. The company also designed its first generation of hydrogen-fueled air-breathing engines and began rocket engine development.

Destinus flew Jungfrau, its car-sized prototype subsonic vehicle, in November at an airport near Munich. Now, Destinus engineers are focused on further development of cryogenic rocket engines and structural heat exchangers integrated into the airframe for active cooling.

Philipp Rösler, a former German vice-chancellor and economics minister, chairs the Destinus Advisory Board.

“It is breathtaking to see a future in which travel anywhere in the world in 1-2 hours will be available,” Rösler said in a statement. “Most importantly, the hyperplane under development will use liquid hydrogen to fuel its engines. That gives the great opportunity to fly fast and at the same time be carbon neutral.”