Stratolaunch Unveils Hypersonic Test Beds, Space Vehicle

Talon A hypersonic vehicle (Credit: Stratolaunch)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Stratolaunch has unveiled a pair of hypersonic test bed vehicles and a reusable spacecraft the company plans to launch from its giant dual fuselage airplane.

“Talon-A is a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle with a length of 28 feet (8.5 m), wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 m), and a launch weight of approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 Kg),” the company’s website said.

“The Talon-A will conduct over 1-minute of hypersonic flight testing, and glide back for an autonomous, horizontal landing on a conventional runway. The vehicle will also be capable of autonomous take-off, under its own power, via a conventional runway,” the website added.

Talon A hypersonic aircraft flight profile. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

“Our hypersonic testbeds will serve as a catalyst in sparking a renaissance in hypersonic technologies for our government, the commercial sector, and academia,” CEO Jean Floyd is quoted on the website.

Talon A hypersonic test bed. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The company has also published a drawing of its Talon Z hypersonic vehicle that is in development. There’s no information on the website about Talon Z.

Talon Z (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Stratolaunch said it is also developing Black Ice, which it describes as a fully reusable space plane with advanced on-orbit capabilities and cargo return. The initial version will be used for cargo, with follow-on variants capable of carrying astronauts.

The vehicles will be launched from Stratolaunch’s massive carrier aircraft, which has a wingspan of 385 ft (117.3 m).

Credit: Stratolaunch Systems Corp.

Stratolaunch was originally a project of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Scaled Composites Founder Burt Rutan. Their goal was to launch satellites into orbit and eventually send people there as well.

Efforts to develop the plane and rockets to fly from it lagged after the initial unveiling of the project in December 2011. Allen died in October 2018 without having seen the enormous aircraft ever take off.

Stratolaunch conducted its first — and so far, only — flight test on April 13, 2019. Allen’s heirs put the company up for sale.

Cerberus Capital Management acquired Stratolaunch in October 2019. The new owners subsequently announced they would use the aircraft to provide high-speed flight test services.

Stratolaunch officials have said they plan to resume flight tests of the vehicle in September from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.