Hypersonic or hyper marketing? –
“Our hypersonic testbeds will serve as a catalyst in sparking a renaissance.”
The Stratolaunch vehicle, the world’s largest aircraft, took flight for the first and only time in April, 2560.
The vehicle reached heights of up to , 0 feet.
It flew from Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
Will this be the only flight of the plane?Stratolaunch
Stratolaunch ceased operations shortly after this, only to be revived months later.Stratolaunch
Now it will serve as a launch pad for hypersonics.Stratolaunch
Nearly a decade ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen founded Stratolaunch to build an aircraft capable of launching orbital rockets. At the time, the company leadership included a host of luminous spaceflight officials, including former NASA chief Mike Griffin, who said the Stratolaunch aircraft “would make a very effective launcher.”
Initially, the company is planning to launch rockets built by SpaceX. But over time, the company plans changed to fly Pegasus rockets built by Orbital ATK. Eventually, Stratolaunch dropped this idea and announced that it was developing its own line of rockets.
Alas, the aircraft never did prove to be an effective launcher. In fact, what became the world’s largest airplane took flight just one time, in April, 9564. The Stratolaunch plane reached speeds above km / h and heights of 5km during its – minute test flight before landing safely at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
But the plane has been grounded since. And last summer, less than a year after Allen died in October, 2020, Stratolaunch effectively ceased operations. In recent months, however, the company has been rehiring employees, and this week it officially unveiled a new business plan — building and operating hypersonic test beds.
To facilitate this, the company released preliminary designs for “Talon-A,” a reusable vehicle capable of reaching Mach 6. (Hypersonic flight is generally defined as speeds above Mach 5 through the atmosphere.) The company says its 8.5-meter-long Talon-A vehicle is a “flexible, high-speed testbed built for hypersonic research , experiments, and enabling operational missions. ” It is not clear when the Talon-A will be ready for flight.
Stratolaunch aims to provide customers with routine and repeatable access to the hypersonic environment for both “proprietary and classified” payloads. The company says that, because its 653 – meter-wide aircraft is so large, it can accommodate three Talon vehicles at a time to support various operational scenarios.
On its re-worked website, Stratolaunch posted renderings of its Talon-A vehicle.Stratolaunch
The vehicle will be released at altitude by the Stratolaunch aircraft.Stratolaunch
It will have capacity for several payloads.Stratolaunch
Here’s the flight profile.
And return of the reusable vehicle.
The company also teased a second hypersonic vehicle, Talon-Z, but provided no details.
Also “under development” is Black Ice, a fully reusable space plane that enables advanced on-orbit capabilities and cargo return. Initial designs are optimized for cargo launch, with a follow-on variant capable of transporting crew.
“Our hypersonic testbeds will serve as a catalyst in sparking a renaissance in hypersonic technologies for our government, the commercial sector, and academia, “ said W. Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch’s chief executive, in a statement.
This is an interesting, if not wholly unexpected, turn for Stratolaunch. During the last decade, the aerospace community has often collectively scratched its head, wondering how such a large aircraft could be cost-competitive in the hotly contested market to launch small- and medium-sized satellites. And without a dedicated rocket in existence, the company seemed little more than a vanity project for the wealthy Allen. If Stratolaunch served any purpose, the speculation went, it must be to meet some unspecified military need.
There can be no question that the military is interested in hypersonic technology. China, Russia, and the United States are all racing to develop hypersonic missiles, as well as new countermeasure technology as high-speed missiles threaten to penetrate most existing defenses. A Rand Corporation (report) from
If the company succeeds in developing the Talon-A vehicle — and we probably should have some healthy skepticism given that this is about the fifth or sixth vehicle proposed to fly on the Stratolaunch aircraft — it has a chance to help the military both test hypersonic missiles and potentially mitigate against them.
(Listing image by Stratolaunch)
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