This is a project that has had some extreme ups and downs. After Stratolaunch founder Paul G. Allen passed away in October 2018, the building of the ROC aircraft progressed slowly. The plane made its first flight in 2019, with its future still uncertain.
The project now belongs to a new owner, Cerberus Capital Management. Along the way, Stratolaunch also had to pivot the project to a new role – bringing us to the Talon-A test vehicle. The ROC is set to become a launch platform for hypersonic vehicles. The Talon-A is only the first and smallest of these.
Initially, the purpose of the ROC would have been to air-launch space rockets. Paul Allen initially worked with Space-X, to use a version of its Falcon 9 space rocket. But now, the company is working with the U.S. Space Force, at its base in Vandenberg, California. Stratolaunch is using telemetry equipment in Vandenberg, to verify its test release of the Talon-A.
Stratolaunch ROC and The Hypersonic Talon-A
This first test vehicle is called the Talon-0 (TA-0) and it is only a test separation vehicle. After a number of proving flights, Stratolaunch released the vehicle on the 13th of May. The company hailed the test as a complete success, with telemetry working as expected. This was the 11th flight of the ROC test platform.
Next, Stratolaunch aims to release a Talon-A vehicle that will make a hypersonic flight towards the end of the summer this year. It will be interesting to see what demand there is for the vehicle, as a test platform. NASA and the U.S. Air Force used B-52s and other large aircraft as launch platforms for aircraft like the X-15.
Beyond the Talon-A hypersonic vehicle, the Stratolaunch ROC itself is an amalgam of old and new. The airframe is made using lightweight composites. But it borrows its engines and many other systems from the 747. If its cockpit windows remind you of something… think 747. It “borrowed” its landing gear from the same source, too.
Dr. Zachary Krevor, Chief Executive Officer and President for Stratolaunch said this about the Talon-A release test:
“Today’s test was exceptional. It was exhilarating to see TA-0 release safely away from Roc, and I commend our team and partners. Our hardware and data collection systems performed as anticipated, and we now stand at the precipice of achieving hypersonic flight.”
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