Stratolaunch has taken another step towards its goal of air-launching hypersonic vehicles. On Thursday, the company has completed the second test flight of its carrier vehicle, which is currently known for being the world's largest aircraft by wingspan. The dual-fuselage launch vehicle with a 385—foot wingspan flew for three hours and 14 minutes over the Mojave Desert at an altitude of 14,000 feet. While it didn't fly as high as it did (17,000 feet) during its first test flight a year ago, it flew 44 minutes longer than before.
According to Stratolaunch, the successful flight confirms the aircraft's performance and capability, and it also validates the enhancements done to the carrier aircraft since its previous flight. Dr. Daniel R. Millman, the company's Chief Technology Officer, said:
"Stratolaunch is advancing our nation's ability to be a worldwide leader in the hypersonic market. Our flight today gets us another step closer to our promise of delivering the world's premier hypersonic flight test service."
Touchdown!! Successful flight tests to round out the day. What a beautiful sight. pic.twitter.com/gdssjvoN8x— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021
The company has already started assembling an expendable version of its hypersonic vehicle, the Talon-A, which is expected to fly for the first time early next year. It has also started assembling the reusable version of Talon-A, which it expects to start testing in 2023. Stratolaunch's goal is to be able to air-launch the reusable Talon-A from its carrier airplane. The Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle is expected to provide 60 seconds of hypersonic flight before gliding back for an autonomous landing on a conventional runway.
As Space notes, Stratolaunch's activities may be of interest to the US military, seeing as hypersonic vehicles are good weapon-delivery systems because of their maneuverability. Millman said the company is looking at how it can help the Department of Defense mitigate risks for a lot of its expensive flight testing. He added: "Our testbed has the ability to carry payloads. It has the ability to test materials. It has the ability to fly a variety of profiles that are of interest to folks across the spectrum both offensively and defensively in terms of hypersonics."