California-based aerospace company Stratolaunch has taken a major step toward realizing its planned launch system for hypersonic flight. Over the weekend, the company successfully launched the TA-0 test vehicle from its Roc carrier aircraft.
With two side-by-side fuselages, six Boeing 747 engines, 28 wheels and wings that stretch 385 feet (117 meters) from tip to tip, the Roc is the largest aircraft in the world.
Stratolaunch plans to use the aircraft to carry its smaller unmanned Talon-A (TA-1) hypersonic aircraft to an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,000 meters), at which point it will be released from the bottom of the Roc to fly on its own. The powered TA-1 will continue to reach speeds in excess of Mach 5 before automatically landing on the runway.
Hopefully, there will eventually be multiple TA-1s available for research into various aspects of hypersonic flight. At the same time, Stratolaunch was hard at work perfecting the Roc’s release system – which is where the Talon-0 (TA-0) comes in.
Announced last May, it’s essentially an unpowered glide replacement for the Talon-A. The TA-0 is winched to the base of a wing-shaped aluminum tower that occupies 14 feet (4.3 meters) at the base of the Roc’s central wingspan. It’s intended to stay there until it’s released at the proper altitude.
Roc made its first flight with the TA-0 last October, but no separation tests were conducted. However, it managed to do just that on Saturday (May 13) during a 4-hour, 8-minute flight over the western range at Vandenberg Space Force Base near California’s central coast.
Not only did the TA-0 release cleanly from the Roc, but there was still radio contact between the two aircraft— and Communication system with the base – after the separation is complete.
This capability will be used to transmit backup telemetry data during TA-1’s hypersonic flight. Plans call for the first of these flights to take place late this summer (in the northern hemisphere).
“It is heartening to see TA-0 safely released from Roc, and I commend our team and partners,” said Stratolaunch CEO Dr. Zachary Krevor. “Our hardware and data collection systems are functioning as expected and we are now Standing on the precipice of hypersonic flight.”