The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) will fund a second example of a reusable hypersonic flight vehicle built by American start-up Stratolaunch.
Mojave, California-based Stratolaunch said on 12 October it has won a contract from the AFRL to support the flight of a second reusable TalonA hypersonic test platform – designated TA-3.
“We’re pleased AFRL chose to support the flight of TA-3 and continues to see value in our approach to low cost, high-cadence flight test,” says Zachary Krevor, chief executive of Stratolaunch.
The value of the contract was not disclosed.
That award follows a similar AFRL contract in November 2022 to help fund the first flight of an expendable TalonA type, which carried the designation TA-1.
Stratolaunch hopes to complete the hypersonic TA-1 flight before the end of 2023. Hypersonic is generally defined as speeds at or above Mach 5.
Two follow-on TalonAs, which are designed to be fully reusable, were designated TA-2 and TA-3 by Stratolaunch.
The company’s goal with TalonA is not to produce an end-user aircraft for military or civil hypersonic flight. Rather, Stratolaunch aims to provide a reusable flight test platform that will reduce both the cost and time associated with hypersonic development.
“Stratolaunch’s repeatable approach enables rapid, iterative testing – increasing the pace of access to the hypersonic environment, while reducing development cost, schedule and risk,” the company says.
TalonA will have the ability to fly a variety of hypersonic flight profiles, according to Stratolaunch, while carrying customised payload experiments on board.
Making use of a separate, “captive carry” over-wing aircraft known as Roc, TalonA vehicles will be carried aloft for an air drop manoeuvre, before accelerating into rocket-powered hypersonic flight.
With a 117m (385ft) wingspan, powered by six engines originally developed for the Boeing 747 commercial airframe, Stratolaunch calls Roc the “world’s largest operating aircraft”.
The company says Roc boasts a capacity of 226,800kg (500,000lb). The TalonA is carried below the wing and in between the twin fuselages.
See video of hot fire testing of the Usra Major Hadley rocket engine that powers the TalonA: