Today brought the fifth flight test for Stratolaunch’s 385-foot-wide carrier aircraft, known as Roc (in a nod to the giant bird of Middle Eastern mythology). Roc ranks as the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, and is designed to carry and release the company’s rocket-powered Talon-A hypersonic vehicles for military and commercial applications.
Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, the late co-founder of Microsoft, founded the venture in 2011 — but after Allen’s death in 2018, ownership was transferred to a private equity firm. Like Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, Stratolaunch takes advantage of air-launch technology pioneered during the award-winning SpaceShipOne campaign that Allen bankrolled nearly two decades ago.
Roc took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port at 7:39 a.m. PT today for a flight that lasted four hours and 58 minutes and reached a maximum altitude of 22,500 feet. Stratolaunch took note of the Star Wars Day connection in a post-landing tweet. “The force is strong in this plane,” the company said.
The test’s prime objective was to check the aerodynamic performance of a new pylon added to Roc’s center wing section. The 8,000-pound, 14-foot-wide pylon consists of a mini-wing and adapter, and will serve as the attachment point for Stratolaunch’s swept-wing Talon-A hypersonic vehicles. The structure includes a winch system that will load the Talon-A onto the platform from the ground.
Today’s flight also focused on landing gear operations, including door functionality and alternate gear extension.
Stratolaunch’s CEO and president, Zachary Krevor, said the flight successfully validated the hardware improvements.
“The pylon is a crucial component of our combined launch system, and I am proud of the team’s timely and quality integration work that occurred since our last test flight,” Krevor said in a news release. “It is through their dedication that we continue to make steady progress toward achieving our next milestones of Talon-A flight tests later this year.”
Last December, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency awarded Stratolaunch a contract to assess the applicability of a reusable hypersonic test bed for military applications, including intercepting hypersonic threats. The company expects to begin delivering services to government and commercial customers in 2023.