Monday, February 26, 2024

Stratolaunch’s massive Roc plane flies with fueled-up hypersonic vehicle

Stratolaunch has announced the completion of its first-ever captive-carry flight with a powered and fueled-up Talon-A hypersonic test vehicle. This was the twelfth flight for the company’s launch platform Roc, the biggest airplane in the world, and it was the first time that the aircraft carried a Talon vehicle with live propellant.

The main objective of the flight was to evaluate the propulsion system of the vehicle – specifically the first of Stratolaunch’s robotic Talon-A craft, known as TA-1 – and the Talon environments while carrying live propellant. Another goal was to verify the functionality of Roc and TA-1’s telemetry systems, which provides situational awareness to ensure all systems are ready for powered flight during the release sequence.

The company representatives mentioned that the flight was also aimed at observing the behavior of the vehicle while being carried in flight.

Roc lifted off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California, and the flight lasted a total of three hours and 22 minutes. TA-1 stayed attached to its carrier plane from liftoff to landing. The flight represented a significant step forward in our near-term goal of completing a powered flight with the Talon-A vehicle.

TA-1 stayed attached to its carrier plane from liftoff to landing.
TA-1 stayed attached to its carrier plane from liftoff to landing. Credit: Stratolaunch

“Talon-A’s propulsion system supports a liquid-propellant rocket engine that provides the thrust needed for Talon-A to reach hypersonic speeds. While we have conducted several successful ground tests fueling and igniting the system, we needed to evaluate how the system performs in the flight environment prior to release,” said Dr. Zachary Krevor, Chief Executive Officer for Stratolaunch. “Initial results from today’s flight show that the system has performed as predicted, and we will determine our next steps pending the full data review of the test.”

Stratolaunch was founded by Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, in 2011. The initial aim was to air-launch rockets from high in Earth’s atmosphere, similar to Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane and VSS Unity spaceliner.

However, in 2019, a year after Allen’s death, the company shifted its focus – now aims to utilize its massive Roc plane as a platform for hypersonic research and development.

Stratolaunch is making progress on manufacturing the TA-2 and TA-3 vehicles while conducting TA-1 testing. These vehicles will be the first fully reusable ones in the Talon-A product line. The company has secured two flight contracts with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and the Navy’s Multiservice Advanced Capability Test Bed program. The deal covers five hypersonic flights with Talon-A vehicles.