Stratolaunch Talon-A, a versatile, reusable hypersonic testbed

After flying the largest in the world, Stratolaunch has now unveiled its new project. The company, founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has announced the development of a fully reusable hypersonic test vehicle. In the race for this technology, this program is arousing some interest.

Called the Stratolaunch Talon-A, it is a flexible, high-speed testbed built for hypersonic research, experiments, and enabling operational missions. The vehicle will be 8.5 meters long with a wingspan of 3.4 meters and a total mass of approximately 2.7 tonnes at launch. It will be dropped aloft by its mothership, the giant carrier aircraft of the same company.

This hypersonic vehicle will be powered by a liquid-propellant rocket engine and will fly at speeds from Mach 5 to Mach 7 before returning to the ground. Stratolaunch did not disclose details of the vehicle’s propulsion system, but in all likelihood, it will be supplied by another company.

Talon-A features a length of 8.5 m, a wingspan of 3.4 m, and a total mass of approximately 2.7 tonnes.
Talon-A features a length of 8.5 m, a wingspan of 3.4 m, and a total mass of approximately 2.7 tonnes.

The Stratolaunch carrier aircraft is the largest in the world and can launch up to three Talon-A testbeds in a single mission. But it takes off and lands from a runway just like any other aircraft. Once it reaches a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft (10,668 m), one or more launch vehicles are released, allowing for rapid constellation deployment to different inclinations.

Data from onboard experiences will either be stored in the vehicle and then retrieved after landing or transmitted by telemetry. Experiments can be integrated into various locations inside and outside the device. Stratolaunch even imagines being able to embark up to three Talon-A simultaneously under the wing of the carrier aircraft, so as to reduce the operating costs and rental of test locations for its customers.

Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft can launch up to three Talon-A testbeds in a single mission.
Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft can launch up to three Talon-A testbeds in a single mission.

With this vehicle, Stratolaunch hopes to attract, among others, the American government and, more specifically, the army. “Our hypersonic testbeds will serve as a catalyst in sparking a renaissance in hypersonic technologies for our government, the commercial sector, and academia,” said Mr. W Jean Floyd, Chief Executive Officer, in a statement posted on the website of the company.

Stratolaunch hopes that this project will be operational in 2022. And by 2023, the manufacturer plans several missions for the Talon-A. In addition to Talon-A, a second, larger, hypersonic vehicle, Talon-Z, is in development.

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