Stratolaunch starts building Talon hypersonic plane for Mach 6 flights

An image tweeted by Stratolaunch shows half a prototype skin for the company's Talon-A reusable hypersonic vehicle.
An image tweeted by Stratolaunch shows half a prototype skin for the company's Talon-A reusable hypersonic vehicle. (Image credit: Twitter/Stratolaunch)

Stratolaunch has started construction on a prototype hypersonic vehicle designed to launch from the world's biggest airplane.

Recent pictures the company shared on Twitter show a prelude of the sleek Stratolaunch Talon-A reusable hypersonic vehicle coming together in a manufacturing facility.

"The upper skin layup tool and prototype upper skin are giving us a peek at what's to come. One. Step. Closer," Stratolaunch said on Twitter Oct. 20. In a separate missive, Stratolaunch thanked their employees for the ongoing hard work. "Maybe we're biased, but we think we have some of the coolest jobs on the planet … and beyond," the company tweeted Oct. 22.

Related: Stratolaunch test photos: The world's largest plane in action

The construction is a promising start after months of uncertainty for Stratolaunch, the future of which came into question after founder Paul Allen (also co-founder of Microsoft) died in October 2018 and the company was sold a year later

In March 2020, however, Stratolaunch announced it would pivot its services to building, testing and operating hypersonic vehicles: vehicles that fly at Mach 5, or five times faster than the speed of sound.

"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 website.

Stratolaunch's Talon-A will be 28 feet (8.5 meters) long with a mass of 6,000 lbs. (2,700 kilograms) and will fly as fast as Mach 6, the company has said. Key components for the plane appear to be well under way, too.

In late October, Stratolaunch said testing on its first engine was complete, courtesy of a partnership agreement with propulsion company Ursa Major Tech. You can see a two-minute video of an engine test here

Stratolaunch also signed an agreement with Draper, a decades-old engineering nonprofit, last month to provide guidance, navigation and control software for the hypersonic vehicle. 

"Under the multi-year contract, Draper will design, develop and deliver a guidance, navigation and control system for the Stratolaunch reusable hypersonic vehicle," Draper representatives wrote in a statement. "The vehicle is designed for use by government, the Department of Defense, the commercial sector and academia, which will contract for payload capacity for space or Earth applications."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: