Stratolaunch has completed the first flight of its super-large Roc aircraft carrying the Talon-A hypersonic test vehicle.
The “captive carry” flight was the eighth flight test of Roc, the world’s largest flying aircraft with its massive 385ft wingspan. The flight lasted 5 hours and 6 minutes over the Mojave Desert and reached an altitude of 23,000ft.
The test flight is a key step in Stratolaunch’s development program, which will eventually add the capability for Roc to air-launch the Talon-A rocket-powered, autonomous reusable testbed.
Talon-A will be able to carry test payloads at speeds above Mach 5 and will be used to reduce the cost of testing air vehicles, components, and technology at hypersonic speeds.
Stratolaunch plans to conduct a series of captive carry flights in the coming months, culminating in a separation test of a TA vehicle over the Pacific Ocean before the end of the year.
The Talon-A separation test vehicle, TA-0 was integrated with Roc’s center wing pylon for the test flight last week. The flight focused on measuring the aerodynamic loads on the Talon-A vehicle while mated to Roc. The loads captured in flight will validate aerodynamic predictions to ensure the release mechanism will function as designed.
Zachary Krevor, Stratolaunch’s CEO and president said, “We have conducted a variety of ground tests in anticipation of this first captive carry flight, and with each successful test milestone achieved we have built confidence that the hardware will perform exactly as it was designed.
“It’s exhilarating to see the team’s hard work come to life and see the vehicles fly as an integrated system.”
Meanwhile, Stratolaunch’s engineers are also testing the systems of the first hypersonic flight test vehicle, TA-1 and making the first and second fully reusable hypersonic vehicles, TA-2 and TA-3. The company plans to start delivering hypersonic flight services to the US Government and commercial customers in 2023.
“Testing and production are accelerating as we push forward to meet our commitment of providing hypersonic flight test service to our customers next year. Our team will continue accomplishing more complex test milestones as we progress to our first hypersonic flight,” Krevor said.
Development of Roc started more than ten years ago, with the Stratolaunch initially pursuing a concept that would see the giant aircraft act as a flying platform from which to launch small satellites into orbit at a reduced cost compared to ground-based rocket launches. The aircraft first rolled out in 2017 and made its first flight in 2019.
A similar concept has been successfully developed by space launch company Virgin Orbit by modifying a Boeing 747-400. The only other air-launch-to-orbit platform operational is Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus program.