The Roc, the largest plane in the world, took off Friday morning from the Mojave Air and Space Port in southern California, U.S. and flew for a record-setting six hours before returning to the same airfield.
The American carrier plane by Stratolaunch has a wingspan larger than a football field. The aircraft is designed to act as a mothership, with its purpose being to carry air-launch-to-orbit rockets and hypersonic vehicles. Only one unit of the plane has been produced to date.
This is the company’s ninth test flight but only the second in which the Talon-A hypersonic test vehicle was aloft.
What exactly is Talon-A?
The Talon-A reusable test vehicle, TA-0, is 38 feet long (11.5 meters) and has a wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 meters). It is powered by a rocket. The test vehicle rests on the pylon beneath The Roc’s center wing, which features a fuselage, three jet engines on either side of the wing, and a wingspan of 385 feet (117 meters).
The Talon-A can be equipped with a variety of research payloads and launched at speeds between Mach 5 and Mach 10, while The Roc cruises at thirty-five thousand feet above the ground (10,000 meters).
The landing gear utilized in the test vehicle is detachable and can be recovered at any standard runway. It’s interesting to note that The Roc can carry up to three Talon-A vehicles because of ample amount of room in the central wing.
The recent flight was a “captive-carry,” meaning the Talon-A was carried into the air in preparation for future flights during which it will then be dropped from The Roc.
The aircraft’s longest flight yet lasted six hours, and it only reached a height of 22,500 feet (6,860 meters). When compared to the last flight The Roc made with Talon-A in June 2022, which had to be cut short after ninety minutes, this is a huge improvement.
“Our amazing team is continuing to make progress on our test timeline, and it is through their hard work that we grow closer than ever to safe separation and our first hypersonic flight tests,” said Dr. Zachary Krevor, Chief Executive Officer and President for Stratolaunch.
“The thorough evaluation of release conditions will provide data to reduce risks and ensure a clean and safe release of Talon-A during future tests,” Dr. Krevor added. “We are excited for what’s ahead this year as we bring our hypersonic flight test service online for our customers and the nation.”
Commercial hypersonic takeoffs
Due to the last flight’s success, Stratolaunch can go on to the next phase of its plan—that is, the separation of its hypersonic flight in safety. Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, established this company to compete with Virgin Orbit by launching satellites into low-Earth orbit. These will be launched from the stratosphere using the specially developed plane called The Roc.
After the initial flight, however, the company’s future was uncertain following Allen’s untimely death. Cerberus Capital Management then bought it and began making plans to utilize it for hypersonic tests as a launch vehicle.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has awarded Stratolaunch a feasibility flight study contract. The company says that it “plans to examine and assess the applicability of a re-usable hypersonic testbed system for Missile Defense Systems (MDS) applications.”
“We’re excited to provide MDA with a feasibility study that allows them to understand how to engage and intercept hypersonic threats,” added Dr. Daniel Millman, Chief Technology Officer of Stratolaunch.