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Sun, Nov 26, 2023

Stratolaunch Aims for Commercialized Hypersonics

Twin-Hull "Roc" Testbed Tests Mid-Air Launch Techniques

Stratolaunch LLC has continued its efforts to develop a Mach 5 capable aircraft, helped along by a familiarly Rutanesque design in the form of Scaled Composites' Roc.

Stratolaunch had planned to offer satellite launch services by taking advantage of lower costs achieved by mid-air ignition, working with Scaled Composites of Burt Rutan fame to design a twin-fuselage aircraft capable of lifting a small rocket up as high as possible. Jet A is generally much cheaper than rocket fuel, or so the plan goes, but ultimately Stratolaunch found itself behind the curve, with the satellite delivery market being taken over by reusable launch vehicles. The only other air-launch service provider, Virgin Galactic, has been similarly outpaced by SpaceX's impressive operational tempo. Back to the drawing board, Stratolaunch saw a market niche untapped within the USA, soon to be more brightly illuminated by the fires of war back East: Hypersonics. The Roc, as it happens, serves as an excellent test bed for large rockets and missiles, allowing the company a solid vantage point to help develop Mach 5 capable systems for a government that found itself behind the power curve in similar fashion. 

In a brief piece highlighting their efforts, Stratolaunch let slip that they plan to test out their first prototype, the TA-1, before 2024. Another, TA-2, is scheduled for launch early in 2024 to prove the design can autonomously guide itself to a safe landing at Vandenberg AFB. Taking a page from SpaceX and similarly resourceful operators, the Talon series of aircraft will be just as reusable, saving millions over the lifecycle of hypersonic tests. Beyond helping the US catch up to near-peers and their programs abroad, Stratolaunch has begun softly courting civilian clientele who can find a use for such aircraft, too. 

“We can go Mach 3 to Mach 6, so we can fly a lot of different and operationally relevant trajectories and flight paths,” said Zachary Krevor, Stratolaunch CEO. “Flying a variety of different Mach numbers and dynamic pressures is what the hypersonic community cares about.” If he's right, then there's plenty of business on the table. Stratolaunch currently expects pricing for test flights using the Talon series in the 7-figure neighborhood, far cheaper than similar programs in the past that would see that number creep up five to tenfold for a disposable hypersonic platform. 

FMI: www.stratolaunch.com

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