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Stratolaunch Tests Hypersonic Prototype

Roc Begets Speed Metal

Founded in 2011 by software mogul Paul Allen and aerospace engineering legend Burt Rutan, Seattle-based Stratolaunch LLC provides high-speed flight test and orbital launch services. Of the enterprise’s original aspirations, only one—a gargantuan carrier aircraft dubbed Roc—was fully developed prior to Paul Allen's untimely 2018 death.

Roc features a twin-fuselage design slung beneath a 385-foot wingspan—the longest ever flown—and boasts a 550,000-pound payload and a Maximum Gross Takeoff Weight (MGTOW) of one-million-three-hundred-thousand pounds.

Presently, Roc functions primarily as an aerial launch platform for Talon-A—a reusable, rocket-powered, hypersonic unmanned flight vehicle being developed by Stratolaunch. Talon-A’s relatively diminutive 28-foot (8.5-meter) fuselage and 11.3-foot (3.4-meter) wingspan belie its six-thousand-pound (2,700-kilogram) launch mass and target airspeed envelope of Mach 5.0 to Mach 7.0 (3,334 to 4,667-knots).

On 28 October 2022, Stratolaunch commenced infight testing of its Talon-A UAV prototype. Roc bore the Talon-A test-vehicle (TA-0) into the azure vastness above California's Mojave Desert, thereby proving itself and its amidships attachment pylon capable of carrying the experimental hypersonic vehicles Stratolaunch’s management and investors hope to presently see racing regularly spaceward. The flight, Roc’s eighth, lasted just over five-hours, reaching a maximum altitude of FL230 (7,000 m), and reportedly meeting the entirety of its engineering, performance, and telemetric objectives.

Stratolaunch vice president of programs and operations Brandon Wood stated in a post-flight teleconference: "This is the first integrated flight test of our Talon launch system. We'll progress from here to more complicated and certainly more productive flights for our hypersonic testbed."

Stratolaunch CEO and President Zachary Krevor added: "I was ecstatic seeing those two vehicles combined as they lifted off the runway and into the sky. Seeing our flight products operating together represents a significant step towards regular and reusable hypersonic flight."

If a planned December 2022 drop-test proves successful, Stratolaunch aims to test its first production hypersonic vehicle—the Talon-A TA-1—in 2023, and offer hypersonic flight services to government and commercial customers soon thereafter.



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