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Fri, May 19, 2023

Stratolaunch Completes Separation Test of Talon-A Vehicle

Hypersonic Test-Flights to Follow

Founded in 2011 by software mogul Paul Allen and aerospace engineering legend Burt Rutan, Mojave, California-based Stratolaunch LLC provides high-speed flight test and orbital launch services. The company’s reusable, air-launched testbeds enable rapid and iterative testing in the hypersonic environment, thereby affording clients longer periods of time in the hypersonic condition.

By partnering with Stratolaunch, government, military, commercial, and academic clients are afforded opportunity to avail themselves of high-quality data by which to accelerate the designs of new hypersonic concepts, mature extant technologies, and pursue spiral development—a family of software development processes characterized by repeated iteration of a set of elemental development processes.

Currently, Stratolaunch’s fleet comprises primarily a carrier aircraft dubbed Roc, after the mythical, giant bird of prey; and Talon-A, an autonomous, reusable, rocket-powered, hypersonic flight vehicle.

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 a staggering one-million-three-hundred-thousand pounds.

Talon-A’s relatively diminutive 28-foot (8.5-meter) fuselage and 11.3-foot (3.4-meter) wingspan belie the machine’s six-thousand-pound (2,700-kilogram) launch mass and airspeed envelope of Mach 5.0 to Mach 7.0 (3,334 to 4,667-knots).

Ultimately, Roc will be capable of carrying up to three Talon-A vehicles contemporaneously, making possible rapid constellation deployment to differing inclinations.

Paired, the two machines constitute a genuine aerospace spectacle—a syncretism of dizzying immensity and blistering speed borne respectively aloft on columns of burning Jet A-1 and rocket fuel.

On 28 October 2022, Stratolaunch commenced captive carry in-flight testing of the Talon-A prototype. Roc ascended into the azure vastness above California's Mojave Desert with the test-vehicle slung to a purpose-built amidships attachment pylon. The flight, Roc’s eighth, lasted just over five-hours, reached a maximum altitude of FL230 (7,000 meters), and reportedly met the entirety of its engineering, performance, and telemetric objectives.

On 13 January 2023 at 14:51 PST, Roc and Talon-A rose as one from the Mojave Air and Space Port, climbed to an altitude of 22,500-feet (6,858-meters), and remained aloft for six-hours—the giant aircraft’s longest sortie to date—before returning to Mojave and landing without incident.

On 13 May 2023, Stratolaunch announced it had successfully completed a separation release test of TA-0, the company’s Talon-A separation test vehicle. The flight was Roc’s 11th and occasioned the second instance in which the company’s teams conducted flight operations within Vandenberg Space Force Base's Western Range.

The flight, which lasted a total of four-hours and eight-minutes, demonstrated the Talon-A launch system’s capability to cleanly and safely separate hypersonic vehicles from Roc's center-wing pylon. The test also confirmed consistent transmission and reception of telemetry between the vehicles and Vandenberg Space Force Base's communication assets—thereby assuring the collection of critical back-up telemetry data during future hypersonic flight tests.  

Having successfully completed the landmark test, the Stratolaunch team progresses now toward the first hypersonic flight of the TA-1 expendable testbed—presumably in late summer 2023.

Stratolaunch president and CEO Dr. Zachary Krevor stated: "Today's test was exceptional. It was exhilarating to see TA-0 release safely away from Roc, and I commend our team and partners. Our hardware and data collection systems performed as anticipated, and we now stand at the precipice of achieving hypersonic flight."

Dr. Krevor added: "We also thank the Western Range, Vandenberg Space Force Base, for their continued support of our test operations. They have provided us with multiple flight opportunities and have been a great partner adapting to our various schedule requests as we adjusted our release window. We look forward to working together during our future operations pursuing hypersonic flight.”

In 2011, Stratolaunch Systems signed a twenty-year agreement with the Kern County Airport Authority, Mojave, California, for the lease of twenty-acres at the Mojave Air and Space Port upon which to build production and launch facilities.

FMI: www.stratolaunch.com

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