Launching a Hypersonic Vehicle for its First Powered Test Flight, the Largest Plane in the World

Launching a Hypersonic Vehicle for its First Powered Test Flight, the Largest Plane in the World

As it strives to create a reusable version of the Talon-A hypersonic aircraft that can carry science payloads and travel at five times the speed of sound, the California firm Stratolaunch successfully accomplished its maiden powered flight of the vehicle.

The company’s enormous Roc aircraft, which was carrying TA-1 in its belly, made its launch on Saturday from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. After that, the aircraft released the hypersonic vehicle at an altitude of about 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), and Stratolaunch reports that it quickly raced across the skies, reaching speeds close to Mach 5.

“While I can’t share the specific altitude and speed TA-1 reached due to proprietary agreements with our customers, we are pleased to share that in addition to meeting all primary and customer objectives of the flight, we reached high supersonic speeds approaching Mach 5 and collected a great amount of data at an incredible value to our customers,” Zachary Krevor, president and CEO of Stratolaunch, said in a statement.

The information will be put to use by the business for the TA-2, a reusable hypersonic vehicle, during its next flight. Later this year is when TA-2 is expected to make its first flight. Future Talon-A vehicles will be rocket-powered and able to travel at hypersonic speeds with a variety of payloads. The business also intends to build the spaceplane known as Black Ice, which would transport payloads—and possibly passengers—to Earth orbit, as well as a larger hypersonic vehicle known as Talon-Z.

In 2011, Stratolaunch was established with the intention of launching Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rocket into orbit utilizing Roc, the largest aircraft ever constructed (much like Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo now operates). After founder Paul Allen passed away in 2018, the company changed course and concentrated on creating, deploying, and operating hypersonic vehicles.

A deal between Stratolaunch and the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency was revealed in December 2021, with the former serving as a testbed for the development of defense plans against hypersonic threats. With its hypersonic vehicles, which fly at greater altitudes and faster speeds, making it more difficult to offer warnings prior to an attack, Stratolaunch is attempting to imitate similar missile threats.

The first powered test flight of TA-1 is a major milestone for Stratolaunch as it continues to develop its hypersonic vehicles. “Our goal with this flight was to continue our risk reduction approach for TA-2’s first reusable flight,” Krevor said. “We are excited to review the data from today’s test and use it as we plan our next steps toward TA-2’s first flight later this year.”

Sanchita Patil

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