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Largest plane in the world ‘will launch up to three hypersonic test vehicles per flight’

Professional Engineering

The Stratolaunch will reportedly be capable of carrying three Talon-A test vehicles beneath its central wing (Credit: Stratolaunch)
The Stratolaunch will reportedly be capable of carrying three Talon-A test vehicles beneath its central wing (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The largest aeroplane in the world will be capable of launching three newly-announced hypersonic test vehicles per flight, its developers have said.

American firm Stratolaunch released details of its Talon-A test vehicles online. The 8.5m autonomous craft are designed to fly at up Mach 6 (7,400km/h), providing a testbed for hypersonic research or enabling operational missions.

Up to three of the vehicles will be launched per mission from the Stratolaunch, the largest plane in the world, with the firm hoping to make high-speed testing “more reliable and routine”. The giant carrier aircraft has a wingspan of 117m – more than three-times the length of the first Wright brothers flight. The centre wing between the aircraft’s two fuselages will be fitted with a ‘pylon’ to carry the smaller craft, and can support up to 227 tonnes.

With a wingspan of 3.4m and a launch weight of roughly 2,700kg, the Talon-A will reportedly be capable of long-duration flights at high speeds. After missions it will glide back and land on a conventional runway.

The reusability of the autonomous craft means payloads and experiments can be recovered. It will also allow quick mission turnaround.

Instrument placement can be customised throughout the Talon-A, Stratolaunch said, allowing internal and external experiments with a variety of sensors and instruments. Data will be collected on-board and transferred to ground stations.

“The vehicle is highly instrumented to obtain fundamental aerothermal and performance data, which may provide unique data sets for comparison and calibration of numerical prediction tools,” said the announcement on the website.

The launch vehicle will release one or multiple Talon-As after reaching a cruising altitude of 10,668m, allowing for rapid ‘constellation’ deployment.

According to information posted on the Geekwire site, the Stratolaunch is planned to be operational from 2022, while multi-mission, single aircraft flights with the Talon-A are planned from 2023.

Hypersonic flight – above Mach 5 – is an area of great interest for aerospace researchers, with potential for military applications, spaceplanes and even commercial flights in future.

“Our hypersonic testbeds will serve as a catalyst in sparking a renaissance in hypersonic technologies for our government, the commercial sector, and academia,” said Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd.

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