Stratolaunch Using World’s Largest Plane to Launch Hypersonic Vehicles

Courtesy Stratolaunch

The high-tech company has reinvented itself as a builder and operator of “hypersonic testbeds.”

Although many commercial airlines are grounded or have limited service due to coronavirus, one aviation company is full-steam ahead with innovations. 

Stratolaunch, initially founded in 2011 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, made headlines when they built the world's largest plane. It was initially designed to launch orbital rockets, but has since taken on a new mission: building and testing hypersonic vehicles. 

Courtesy Stratolaunch 

This week the company unveiled its new plan and released designs for the Talon-A, a vehicle able to reach Mach 6, aka breaking the sound barriers. It's meant to be used for "hypersonic research, experiments, and enabling operational missions."

According to Stratolaunch, "[Talon-A] will conduct long-duration flight at high Mach, and glide back for an autonomous, horizontal landing on a conventional runway. It will also be capable of autonomous takeoff, under its own power, via a conventional runway."

But the company is also making use of the world's largest aircraft with this project by stating it could carry the Talon-A and launch it while cruising at 35,000 feet. In fact, according to the company, it could carry three Talon-A vehicles at once, "enabling a single or multi-mission capability on a single Stratolaunch aircraft sortie." In the meantime, the Stratolaunch plane could head back to the runway to prepare for its next mission.

Clouds: Malorny/Getty Images; Plane: Courtesy Stratolaunch 

"Our hypersonic testbeds will serve as a catalyst in sparking a renaissance in hypersonic technologies for our government, the commercial sector, and academia," Stratolaunch CEO W. Jean Floyd said in a statement on the company's website.

The massive aircraft, which has an incredible 385-foot wingspan, weighs nearly 500,000 pounds and has six engines, made its maiden flight last year. The Talon-A is set to take it's first test flight in 2022 if all goes according to plan.

Stratolaunch also announced another aircraft design called Black Ice. It's described as being "a fully reusable space plane that enables advanced on-orbit capabilities and cargo return." The goal is also to make it "capable of transporting crew."