Stratolaunch’s Roc is a carrier plane with a wingspan the length of a football field. However, the aircraft is not a large cargo lifter; rather, it is being tested to serve as a platform for testing hypersonic payloads. The carrier plane took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in southeastern California on Friday morning, setting yet another flight record for a plane of its size by flying for six hours straight before landing at the same location.
Powered by six engines and essentially the size of two commercial planes attached at one wing, Roc is a test bed that will be used for launching Stratolaunch’s actual cutting-edge technology, the Talon hypersonic vehicle. Used to test hypersonic conditions in real scenarios, the Talon will supposedly be used for the design of the next generation of hypersonic aircraft and missiles. This is now the ninth flight of Roc (but the first since October 2022), which precedes Talon-A launch tests that may go ahead later this year.
Talon-A is a rocket-powered, reusable test vehicle with a wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 meters). The test vehicle is mounted on a pylon beneath the Roc’s center wing, which has a fuselage and three jet engines on either side of the central wing and a wingspan of 385 feet (117 m).
The Talon-A can be outfitted with various research payloads that can then be shot to travel at speeds ranging from Mach 5 to Mach 10, while the Roc cruises at 35,000 feet (10,000 m). The test vehicle also has its landing gear, which can be recovered and utilized on any standard runway. Surprisingly, the large space of the center wing allows the Roc to transport up to three Talon-As at once.
Stratolaunch’s recent flight success sets the stage for the next step in its strategy: the safe separation of its hypersonic flight. After reaching the Stratosphere, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen built The Roc to be able to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit, similar to Virgin Orbit.
Stratolaunch has been contracted by the Department of Defense (DoD) for hypersonic flight services via the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). Stratolaunch will offer MDA targets that resemble hypersonic threats, which will be utilized to refine and develop air defense systems, according to the deal. If all goes as planned, Stratolaunch will test the Talon-A next in its effort to deliver services later this year.