On Friday, Oct. 28, the morning was crisp and hazy at Mojave Air and Spaceport.
The Stratolaunch carrier aircraft, nicknamed ROC, was staged at the end of Runway 30.
Excitement filled the air as the team of engineers and other Stratolaunch personnel went through their checklists in preparation for this historic flight — the first captive-carry flight with the TA-0 rocket vehicle.
The Citation chase aircraft lifted from Runway 30 at 8:17 a.m., and then the giant twin-fuselage Stratolaunch carrier aircraft, with a 385-foot wingspan, started rolling at 8:21 a.m., raised into the air leaving a large cloud of dust in its wake.
Grace Wang, Talon A Pylon Lead Engineer, was very happy when watching takeoff of ROC, with TA-0 attached, “So many years to come to this point, this is so exciting, it warms my heart to see this.” She said, “There is a rocket engine that burns liquid oxygen and JetA mounted on TA-0, but it will not fire.”
She also said, “It is fully instrumented for data collection by Stratolaunch and Ursa Major Technologies, located in Colorado,†the manufacturer of the Hadley rocket engine. It is a 5,000 pound class engine.”
“They wanted the full weight with engine to verify how the Talon airframe will handle the airflow during flight. The company is collecting data at altitude, measuring thermal data, vibration, and flutter to compare Talon to mothership ROC. Cameras are mounted on Talon also for visual testing.”
Wang said, “The gear was retracted at 15,000-feet. They wait because it uses a lot of hydraulic power to raise the gear. Gear, flight controls and flaps all use hydraulic power and they didn’t want to overload the system.”
This was eighth flight which expanded the flight envelope working towards hypersonic flight next year. Wang said, “We don’t test too many different things on one flight.”
“We are tracking for separation of Talon at the end of the year,” said James Mason, Stratolaunch Engineer. “A lot of data has to be gone over after each flight.”
Wang said, “Simulated approaches are completed at 15,000 to evaluate handling qualities with Talon attached. ROC has 28 wheels, six main gear with clusters of four wheels per gear (three per side) and two nose gears with two wheels per gear. Talon has three wheels that are only 9-inches in diameter.”
The company said that the entire flight test lasted for a total of five hours and six minutes and reached a maximum altitude of 23,000-feet.
During a press conference after the flight Stratolaunch CEO and President Dr. Zachary Krevor told reporters, “I was ecstatic seeing those two vehicles combined as they lifted off the runway and into the sky. Seeing our flight products operating together represents a significant step towards regular and reusable hypersonic flight.”
Local shutterbugs were thrilled to witness history in the making at Mojave Air and Spaceport once again. Photos of the take-off, flybys and landing were captured by many professional and amateur photographers.
“We have conducted a variety of ground tests in anticipation of this first captive carry flight, and with each successful test milestone achieved we have built confidence that hardware will perform exactly as it was designed,” Krevor said.
According to Stratolaunch, the company will complete a series of captive carry flights in the coming months, culminating in a separation test of the TA-0 vehicle out over the Pacific Ocean in late 2022.
“Testing and production are accelerating as we push forward to meet our commitment of providing hypersonic flight test service to our customers next year. Our team will continue accomplishing more complex test milestones as we progress to our first hypersonic flight,” Krevor said.
Simultaneously, the company is continuously moving ahead with the system evaluation of its first hypersonic flight test vehicle, TA-1 as well as with the fabrication of the first and second fully reusable TA-2 and TA-3 hypersonic vehicles.
Delivery of hypersonic flight services for government and commercial customers is expected to start next year.
According to an Oct. 4, 2022, press release, Stratolaunch, LLC announced they have been added to the Test Resource Management Center’s Integration Innovation Inc. (i3) team to demonstrate the SkyRange airborne test assets capability by tracking the first Talon-A hypersonic flight.
The press release also stated, “The SkyRange program is developing, operating, and integrating advanced sensors and capabilities for a fleet of air-vehicle systems that will support hypersonic test and evaluation. The program’s test architecture includes both MQ-9 Reapers and RQ-4 Global Hawks allowing for a broad range of data capture on a variety of mission scenarios that will enable decision-making for high-speed system testing and fielding. This unique capability will increase national high-speed systems flight test capabilities and frequency, and ultimately enable leap-ahead technologies for our nation’s warfighter.”
“Stratolaunch’s hypersonic flight test service is centered around its Talon-A, a reusable autonomous hypersonic testbed vehicle which provides a flexible test architecture for hypersonic flights and experimentation. During the Talon-A’s maiden hypersonic flight, it will operate as a high-speed vehicle, which TRMC SkyRange assets will acquire, track, and otherwise support to validate developmental instrumentation payloads.”
“We’re excited for the opportunity to provide the SkyRange program an operational application with our first Talon-A hypersonic flight,” said Krevor. “This mutually beneficial partnership will increase the pace and reduce cost of testing, which is critical to hypersonic system technology development.”