Stratolaunch Releases Test Aircraft From World’s Largest Plane, Setting Stage for Hypersonic Flights

Stratolaunch Releases Test Aircraft From World’s Largest Plane, Setting Stage for Hypersonic Flights

Stratolaunch, a California-based aerospace company, has announced the latest successful test of its behemoth aeroplane called Roc, which released a test version of the company’s Talon-A hypersonic aircraft mid-flight from its centre pylon this past weekend.

Stratolaunch conducted the test on Saturday afternoon, during which Roc flew off the coast of California above the Vandenberg Space Force Base’s Western Range. Roc spent four hours and eight minutes in the air, while Stratolaunch tested telemetry between the aircraft and Vandenberg Space Force Base, and, more importantly, the plane’s payload separation capabilities.

During the flight, Roc released TA-0, a test version of Stratolaunch’s Talon-A hypersonic aircraft. The company has flown Roc with TA-0 previously, but this is the first time Stratolaunch released the expendable prototype. With this successful test Stratolaunch hopes to begin the first hypersonic flight of another Talon-A testbed — dubbed TA-1 — in late summer.

TA-0 shortly after being deployed.  (Image: Stratolaunch)
TA-0 shortly after being deployed. (Image: Stratolaunch)

“Today’s test was exceptional,” said Zachary Krevor, Stratolaunch CEO and president, in a press release. “It was exhilarating to see TA-0 release safely away from Roc, and I commend our team and partners. Our hardware and data collection systems performed as anticipated, and we now stand at the precipice of achieving hypersonic flight.”

Roc, which is named after the giant bird in Middle Eastern mythology, features a twin-fuselage design and a wingspan of over 117 metres, making it the largest plane in the world. The pylon that carries the Talon-A aircraft is approximately 4.3 metres long and 3,630 kilograms.

Here’s how it will eventually work: The hypersonic plane hitches a ride while attached to the pylon on Roc’s belly and then launches from the aircraft when it hits 10,668 metres. For reference, hypersonic vehicles travel faster than Mach 5, which is five times faster than the speed of sound. Stratolaunch is positioning Talon-A as an autonomous and reusable hypersonic aircraft capable of performing scientific research with customisable payloads.

Saturday’s test marks the company’s eleventh flight with Roc, according to Stratolaunch’s release, but not all have gone according to plan. During a test of Roc’s pylon last summer, the company ended the plane’s flight prematurely. During the test, Roc flew for one hour and 26 minutes instead of the scheduled 3.5 hours, and Stratolaunch was not forthcoming with the details on why the flight ended prematurely.

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