Stratolaunch Tests Hypersonic Prototype – A Sign of Hypersonic Flight in the Horizon

Category Engineering

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Stratolaunch's Roc, the world's biggest airplane owned by late entrepreneur Paul Allen, has successfully dropped a hypersonic test vehicle, paving the way for its first hypersonic flight in just a few months. The test was part of a strategy change from air-launchable rockets to hypersonic vehicles for the U.S. Department of Defense. After a four-hour-long flight, the Roc was able to deliver its payload safely and is now inching closer to achieving hypersonic flight.

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Stratolaunch's Roc, the world's biggest airplane now has one more accolade to boast about. The plane has successfully completed the drop of its hypersonic test vehicle, TA-0, paving the way for its first hypersonic flight in just a few months from now.

Powered by six engines, The Roc is unarguably the world's largest plane by its sheer size. The dual fuselage aircraft does not look like anything that could carry a heavy payload. When it was designed, The Roc was meant to carry air-launchable rockets that take satellites to orbit much like how Virgin Orbit planned.

Stratolaunch was founded by the late entrepreneur Paul Allen back in 2011.

However, after the death of its founder Paul Allen, Stratolaunch had to change its plans and pivoted toward testing hypersonic vehicles. With Virgin Orbit filing for bankruptcy recently, it looks like Stratolaunch made the right bet and is now heading toward a promising future.

--- Successful launch of the hypersonic test vehicle --- .

It was only last October that the Roc made its first flight with the hypersonic vehicle, dubbed The Talon for the very first time. The Talon is a reusable hypersonic test aircraft that can carry customizable payloads at speeds greater than Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.

Stratolaunch is the largest aircraft by wingspan, measuring 385 feet from wingtip to wingtip.

This is quite remarkable considering that the company was looking at bankruptcy in 2019 and has now turned itself around to test hypersonic vehicles for the Pentagon. Stratolaunch is currently building advanced iterations of the Talon-A reusable vehicle but recently tested the release of the Talon-A0, which does not have a power plant.

On Saturday, May 11, The Roc took off from the MojaveAir and Space Port in Southern California a little after nine in the morning on its 11th test flight. Heading west, the world's biggest airplane dropped Talon-A0 when it was off California's central coast.

The Talon-A0 featured three parachutes and an airbag for its splashdown into the Pacific Ocean.

Since Talon-A0 does not have an engine to take itself up to hypersonic speeds, the test vehicle could only perform gliding maneuvers and send telemetry data back to the team through The Roc and back at the Vandenberg Space Force Base, a press release said.

While other Talon test vehicles will have landing gear to enable their recovery on any airstrip, Talon-A0 could only perform a mock landing and hit the water. The Roc landed back at Mojave four hours and eight minutes after liftoff.

Stratolaunch is backed by the U.S. Department of Defense, who has awarded the company contracts for hypersonic flight and space technology.

"Today's test was exceptional," said Dr. Zachary Krevor, Chief Executive Officer at Stratolaunch. in the press release. "It was exhilarating to see TA-0 release safely away from Roc. Our hardware and data collection systems performed as anticipated, and we now stand at the precipice of achieving hypersonic flight." .

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