This Could Be the Future of Hypersonic Flight

Stratolaunch previews the Talon-A research vehicle

Artist’s conception of the reusable Talon-A, which will be 28 feet long.

Stratolaunch offered a glimpse of the future when, in October, it posted a photo of the prototype upper composite skin of its Talon-A hypersonic research vehicle on Twitter. When completed, it will test hypersonic payloads at speeds up to Mach 6. While Talon-A can take off horizontally, it will primarily be launched by Stratolaunch’s enormous jet carrier aircraft. Originally designed to launch satellites, the company pivoted to providing a test-bed for hypersonic vehicles following the death of founder Paul Allen in 2018 and its acquisition by new investors.

Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft
The massive Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft was previously nicknamed the Roc, for a giant mythical bird.

Company spokesperson Art Pettigrue says the carrier offers unique advantages: “We are able to provide a wide hypersonic flight envelope for our customers, with a range of Mach numbers and dynamic pressures, because we are not constrained to a rocket first stage that has a limited flight path due to various location, loading, and environmental constraints.” Stratolaunch expects Talon-A’s first test flight will be in 2022, subject to possible delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This story is a selection from the February/March issue of Air & Space magazine

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