Stratolaunch Approaches Hypersonic Speed in First Powered TA-1 Test Flight

Stratolaunch’s TA-1 autonomous test vehicle, pictured here attached to its Roc carrier aircraft, completed its first flight on March 9, 2024, approaching near hypersonic speeds. (Image: Stratolaunch)

Stratolaunch completed the first powered air-launched flight of its Talon-A test vehicle, TA-1 at Mojave Air and Space Port in California on March 9, 2024. During a virtual press conference held following the first flight, Stratolaunch executives were unable to discuss the top speed or altitude of TA-1 because of "proprietary agreements" with unspecified customers.

Zachary Krevor, CEO of Stratolaunch, however, confirmed that the TA-1 reached "high supersonic speeds approaching Mach 5" during the flight test.

Talon-A is Stratolaunch's prototype uncrewed aircraft that the company has developed as a reusable hypersonic test vehicle, that could eventually provide the Department of Defense (DoD) and other defense customers with more access to hypersonic testing and experiments at a lower cost. Stratolaunch is a Mojave, California-based aerospace manufacturing company, well known for the unique twin-fuselage design of Roc, which is powered by six engines and has a wingspan of 385 feet. The company was originally founded in 2011 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to provide air-launch services with a six-engine aircraft.

The Talon-A vehicle is rocket-powered air launched vehicle, the first of three such planned designs by the company, with TA-2 and TA-3 currently in development. To be considered hypersonic, a flight must occur at speeds of at least Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, which NASA describes as aircraft flying at speeds greater than 3,000 mph.

Primary objectives for the first flight test included accomplishing air-launched release of the TA-1, engine ignition, acceleration, sustained climb in altitude, and a controlled water landing.

The air-launched release of TA-1. (Video: Stratolaunch)

"Our goal with this flight was to continue our risk reduction approach for TA-2’s first reusable flight and be steadfast on our commitment of delivering maximum value to our customers. We are excited to review the data from today’s test and use it as we plan our next steps toward TA-2’s first flight later this year," Krevor said.

The first flight of TA-1 also marked a milestone for Ursa Major, the Denver, Colorado-based company that designs the Hadley engine that powers the TA-1. Hadley is a 5,000-pound-thrust (lbf) liquid oxygen and kerosene, oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle rocket engine for small vehicles.

"For the first time since SpaceX fundamentally transformed space launch with privately developed rockets, Ursa Major and Stratolaunch have come together to advance a critical national mission," said Ursa Major CEO Joe Laurienti. "Hypersonic flight has been a massive military and governmental challenge. Today, private companies were able to propel a leap forward."