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.

TalonA Stratolaunch

Source: Domenic Moen/Stratolaunch


“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.

230113- Stratolaunch Talon Photo Chase-091

Source: Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch has conducted at least 11 captive carry test flights with a TalonA testbed, including the first separation drop test in May 2023

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.

It earlier had conducted captive carry test flights with a TalonA testbed, designated TA-0, including a successful separation drop test.

See video of hot fire testing of the Usra Major Hadley rocket engine that powers the TalonA: