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.
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.