World's largest plane carries fueled hypersonic test vehicle into the skies
California's Stratolaunch has announced the successful completion of its 12th test flight, where its six-engine, 385-ft wingspan Roc carrier aircraft took to the air for a captive carry test of a Talon-A hypersonic vehicle hauling live propellant.
Stratolaunch revealed plans for a huge aircraft to launch spacecraft into orbit back in 2011, but the world's largest plane didn't roll out from its hangar until 2017, and then on to its maiden flight a couple of years later.
In 2020, the original plan was amended and a reusable hypersonic vehicle design was unveiled. The Talon-A would be released at altitude from the Roc carrier aircraft, to then fly at speeds over Mach 5 and subsequently land itself on a conventional runway.
The TA-0 test version followed in 2022, which lacked rocket power but was designed to validate release systems. It was integrated into the Roc's center wing later that year for its first captive carry flight. A test at Vandenberg Space Force Base's Western Range earlier this year successfully nailed the release.
Now the first powered test vehicle has hitched a ride under the Roc carrier for the company's 12th flight, where the TA-1 vehicle with live propellant was carried aloft for more than three hours to gather key data needed for the upcoming first powered flight of the hypersonic Talon.
"Talon-A’s propulsion system supports a liquid-propellant rocket engine that provides the thrust needed for Talon-A to reach hypersonic speeds," said company CEO, Sr, Zachary Krevor. "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."
The captive carry test went as expected, and the company will now paw through the data in preparation for the Talon-A's first powered flight, while also working on the first reusable vehicles – the TA-2 and TA-3.