Stratolaunch Completes Critical Design Review Targeting Hypersonic Flight Test in 2022 | New
Stratolaunch, owner of the world’s largest aircraft, has completed a critical design review of its Talon-A hypersonic test vehicle.
The Mojave, Calif., Based company plans to use its massive six-engine Roc aircraft as a launch pad for hypersonic vehicles and missiles. The aircraft, which has a record wingspan of 117 m (385 feet), was developed by Scaled Composites to launch rockets into orbit.
Stratolaunch said on September 27 that the Critical Design Review competition puts it on track to flight test its Talon hypersonic vehicles in 2022. High-speed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) would then enter service with of potential government and commercial customers by 2023.
“Talon-A vehicles are rocket-propelled, self-contained, reusable test stands carrying customizable payloads at speeds above Mach 5,” Stratolaunch explains. “This capability enables routine access to the hypersonic flight environment, which is essential for scientific research, technology development and component demonstration. “
The US Department of Defense is in a hypersonic missile arms race with China and Russia. It invests billions of dollars in the development of different types of hypersonic missiles. Hypersonic is defined as anything that flies faster than M5.
Still, the Pentagon has a limited number of planes that are large enough and have sufficient lift capacity to launch hypersonic missiles for test flights. The US Air Force often uses its Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, but this heavy bomber has other missions to fulfill, which limits its availability. In light of the flight test bottleneck, Stratolaunch wants to be a launch test rig for rent.
The company says it built its Talon-A test vehicles in parallel with its critical design review. The airframe for the initial test vehicle, the Talon-A0, is complete and Stratolaunch is working on installing subsystems in the UAV ahead of functional testing in early 2022.
“He will serve as a scout for mission operations, including a flight test demonstrating safe release and separation from the carrier aircraft,” the company said.
A second vehicle, dubbed Talon-A1, is being assembled and will be the company’s first hypersonic drone.
Talon-A is 8.5m long, with a 3.4m wingspan. It has a launch weight of approximately 2,720 kg (6,000 lb). The UAV is intended to fly up to M6 and then hover autonomously to land where it would land on a conventional runway. The company says it will also be able to take off autonomously from a conventional runway using its rocket motor.
Stratolaunch says the Talon-A will have instruments built into its airframe to obtain aerothermal and performance data. It will also be able to carry experimental payloads.
Giant Roc has flown only twice since 2019, but Stratolaunch plans to conduct additional flight tests in the coming months. After these flights, the company plans to install pylons under its center wing to carry three Talon-A vehicles at a time.
“This unique capability enables multiple hypersonic flight opportunities in a single day or the near simultaneous launch of three Talon vehicles, which can support specific operational scenarios,” Stratolaunch explains.