California-based Stratolaunch, the venture created by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, released a separation test vehicle for the first time this weekend during an experimental flight of the world’s largest airplane.
The event marked a significant milestone in Stratolaunch’s quest to create an air-launch system for rocket-powered hypersonic vehicles.
The May 13 outing was the 11th flight test for Stratolaunch’s flying launch pad — a twin-fuselage, six-engine airplane with a record-setting 385-foot wingspan. The plane is nicknamed Roc in honor of a giant bird in Middle East mythology.
Roc carried the Talon-A separation test vehicle, known as TA-0, during three previous test flights. But this was the first time TA-0 was released from Roc’s center-wing pylon to fly free. The release took place during a four-hour, eight-minute flight that involved operations in Vandenberg Space Force Base’s Western Range, off California’s central coast.