Stratolaunch unveils its first hypersonic design for high-altitude flight

Fresh off its fifth flight of the largest aircraft ever built, Stratolaunch is preparing to test a hypersonic vehicle that will take off from the massive Roc carrier plane.

The Mojave, Calif.-based company announcement (opens in a new tab) On May 26, he structurally completed the Talon-A test vehicle, known as TA-0. A future Roc flight will free TA-0, which is unpowered, to evaluate Roc’s systems. (The news comes just weeks after Stratolaunch flew on May 4 to check out Roc’s landing gear, among other things.)

“After completing TA-0 separation tests, the company will move on to piloting its first hypersonic test vehicle, TA-1,” Stratolaunch said, noting that the news was first leaked exclusively. at aviation week (opens in a new tab). “The team also began manufacturing a third vehicle, TA-2, the first fully reusable hypersonic test vehicle,” Stratolaunch representatives added.

Related: Stratolaunch test photos: the world’s largest airplane in action

Stratolaunch was originally expected to perform initial drop tests with Roc and Talon-A in early 2022, but will likely reach full operational capability by mid to late 2023, company representatives said.

TA-0 is expected to perform a tethered transport flight later this year, Stratolaunch added on May 26, meaning the vehicle will be tested under Roc to see how the test article affects the flight dynamics of the carrier aircraft. 385 feet (117 meters). Drop testing will take place with later generations of Talon-A at an undisclosed date.

Stratolaunch’s Talon-A separation test vehicle coupled to a Roc carrier aircraft. (Image credit: Stratolaunch)

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Stratolaunch was originally envisioned as an in-flight satellite launcher. Created in 2011 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the first test flight took place in April 2019, about six months after Allen died of cancer.

A few months later, in October 2019, a new group of owners bought the company with a new iteration of sending hypersonic vehicles to altitude. These types of vehicles travel at least five times the speed of sound and have recently been the subject of numerous military programs in the United States amid reports that Russia and China are focusing development on these high-speed systems.

Earlier in May, for example, DARPA’s Glide Breaker hypersonic missile interceptor program announced a Phase 2 of its program “to perform wind tunnel and flight testing of jet interaction effects,” as the said the US military agency at the time.

Stratolaunch successfully flew its Roc carrier aircraft for 1 hour and 43 minutes on its fourth test flight, on February 24, 2022. (Image credit: Stratolaunch/Matt Hartman)

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The agency also recently announced that a prototype Lockheed Martin hypersonic missile flew at five times the speed of sound “for an extended period” under a separate program, the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC). . Raytheon Technologies (opens in a new tab) also conducted its own HAWC test in September 2021.

Roc’s final flight, Star Wars Day (May 4), passed its fifth test from Mojave Air and Space Port after completing its third and fourth test flights at the same location earlier in 2022. Talon hypersonic vehicles will use a pylon that just flew for the first time on this fifth test flight, Stratolaunch said.

The 8,000-pound (3,600 kg) pylon includes a winch “that will load Talon-A vehicles onto the platform from the ground, speeding launch preparation and reducing the need for ground support,” Stratolaunch said.

The hope is that the hypersonic test program will enable results such as technology development, scientific research or the demonstration of key components for high-speed work, the company added.

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