Stratolaunch’s Roc carrier plane made its second test flight on April 29 as part of a data collection operation that lasted three hours and 14 minutes. Other flights will be necessary before the structure is operational. The goal: to serve as a mobile launch platform for hypersonic vehicles.
Six 747 engines, a twin fuselage, 28 wheels and a wingspan of 117 meters, the Roc is the largest aircraft in the world. Developed a few years ago by the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, the structure was originally designed to transport and launch rockets, with the aim of freeing satellites in low orbit.
Unfortunately, Allen passed away in 2018. The business was then sold in October 2019 to Stratolaunch, who recast the role of the craft. The aircraft will now serve as mobile launch pad for hypersonic vehicles, these machines capable of traveling at least five times faster than the speed of sound.
Two successful flights
The Roc had shown itself for the first time in April 2019. After taking off from the air and space port of Mojave, in the Californian desert, the plane had remained in flight for about two and a half hours, reaching a altitude of 5,200 meters and an maximum speed of 304 km / h.
A few days ago, the vehicle attempted and succeeded on a second flight, still from Southeast California. During this test, which lasted three hours and 14 minutes, the aircraft reached a maximum altitude of 14,000 feet (4,267 m) and an top speed of 320 km / h.
“We are very satisfied with the performance of our aircraft as it approaches the launch of its first hypersonic vehicle“Stratolaunch COO Zachary Krevor said at a press conference.
A fully operational structure in two years
Stratolaunch is developing its own family of hypersonic vehicles, including an 8.5 m long reusable machine called Talon-A. He will be the first to fly with the carrier aircraft.
However, it will not be for now. Other test flights are indeed necessary before considering the first flight of this machine. If all goes according to plan, the Talon-A will be able to perform a first test early next year. A consumable version will hit hypersonic speeds later in 2022.
Finally, the first flight with the reusable variant of the Talon-A will be scheduled for 2023.
The data collected during these flights may also be of interest to the US military to be used as weapons delivery systems. These devices are indeed very manoeuvrable, and therefore more difficult to counter than traditional ballistic missiles. The US government has been developing its own reusable hypersonic vehicles for a few years, but none are yet operational.