Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Stratolaunch debuts new Talon-A test vehicle for hypersonic flight

Back in 2020, we heard about Stratolaunch Talon-A, a flexible, high-speed testbed built for hypersonic research and experiments. The hypersonic aircraft would be released from the Roc aircraft with the largest wingspan in the world at an altitude of 35,000 ft (10,668 m). Both the Talon-A and Roc aircraft carrier is developed by an American aerospace company Stratolaunch.

Now, the company has announced the debut of its structurally complete Talon-A test vehicle, TA-0. This first Talon-A vehicle will be used to test and validate Roc’s release system and characterize the separation dynamics of the Talon vehicle.

Although this first version of Talon-A will not be powered in flight, its future iterations will be rocket-powered, autonomous, reusable testbeds carrying customizable payloads at speeds above Mach 5 before autonomously landing on a runway.

Stratolaunch's Talon-A separation test vehicle, TA-0, mated to Roc carrier aircraft for the first time.
Stratolaunch’s Talon-A separation test vehicle, TA-0, mated to Roc carrier aircraft for the first time. Credit: Domenic Moen/Stratolaunch

Roc’s pylon, located on the center wing, will be used to carry and release Talon-A hypersonic vehicles. With the pylon configuration, up to three such vehicles can be carried and launched. The hardware is comprised of a mini-wing and adapter that is constructed with aluminum and carbon fiber skins. It weighs approximately 8,000 pounds and occupies 14 feet of Roc’s 95-foot center wingspan, allowing for adequate space between the aircraft‘s dual fuselages for safe vehicle release and launch. It also features a winch system that will load Talon-A vehicles onto the platform from the ground, expediting launch preparation and reducing the need for ground support.

The TA-0 will continue functional and integration testing in the coming months, culminating in a captive carry and vehicle flight later this year. After completing TA-0 separation testing, the company will transition to flying its first hypersonic test vehicle, TA-1. The team has also started fabricating a third vehicle, TA-2, the first fully reusable hypersonic test vehicle.

The Talon-A testbed capability will ultimately enable routine access to the hypersonic flight environment, which is critical for scientific research, technological development, and component demonstration.