The world’s largest aircraft Roc Stratolaunch flew for the first time carrying the Talon-A hypersonic vehicle payload on Sunday 3 December 2023. Photo/Stratolaunch
CALIFORNIA – The world’s largest aircraft, Roc Stratolaunch, flew for the first time carrying a Talon-A hypersonic vehicle payload on Sunday, December 3, 2023. Roc Stratolaunch performed a captive-carry flight carrying Talon-A under its broad wings.
The flight was aimed at evaluating the propulsion system of Stratolaunch’s Talon-A robotic vehicle, known as TA-1. This flight was to see more generally how it behaves when carried on a flight.
“The Talon-A propulsion system supports a liquid-fuel rocket engine to provide the thrust needed to reach hypersonic speeds,” said Stratolaunch CEO Zachary Krevor, quoted by SINDOnews from the Space page, Tuesday (5/12/2023).
This flight is the 12th overall for the Roc Stratolaunch aircraft, which has a wingspan of 117 meters. The large twin-fuselage aircraft last flew in May 2023, when it conducted its first crash test with a Talon prototype.
“While we have conducted several successful ground tests of refueling and starting the system, we need to evaluate how the system performs in a flight environment before launch,” added Krevor.
On the most recent flight the Roc Stratolaunch stayed in the air for three hours and 22 minutes, taking off from Mojave Air and Space Harbor in Southern California. The TA-1 hypersonic vehicle remained attached under the wing of the Roc Stratolaunch aircraft from takeoff to landing.
“Preliminary results from today’s flight show that the system has performed as predicted. “We will determine next steps while waiting for a review of the complete data from the test,” continued Krevor.
Stratolaunch was founded by Microsoft’s Paul Allen in 2011. Its initial goal was to launch rockets from high in the Earth’s atmosphere, much in the same way that Virgin Galactic sent tourists into the air using its WhiteKnightTwo transport plane and VSS Unity spacecraft.
But in 2019, a year after Allen’s death, the company’s focus shifted. They intend to use Roc as a platform for hypersonic research and development. The aircraft is highly maneuverable and flies five times faster than the speed of sound.
The reusable Talon-A aircraft will be the first of Stratolaunch’s line of hypersonic vehicles, although other vehicles are coming soon. The company’s website also displays the Talon+ vehicle, as well as a spaceship.
Stratolaunch has signed several customers for its hypersonic services. Last week, for example, the company announced that it had signed a contract with Leidos, the prime contractor for the US Navy’s Multiservice Advanced Capability Test Bed (MACH-TB). The deal funds five hypersonic flights with the Talon-A vehicle.