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Stratolaunch's huge Roc carrier plane flies higher than ever on 7th test flight

The Stratolaunch Roc carrier plane during its seventh test flight June 16, 2022.
Stratolaunch's giant carrier plane, called Roc, flew higher than ever before during its seventh test flight on June 16, 2022. (Image credit: Stratolaunch)

Stratolaunch's enormous Roc carrier aircraft aced its seventh test flight yesterday (June 16), flying higher than it ever has before.

Roc, which will eventually carry into the sky hypersonic vehicles developed by Stratolaunch, reached a maximum altitude of 27,000 feet (8,200 meters) yesterday during a flight over the Mojave Desert in California that lasted three hours and one minute .

"The seventh flight focused on continuing Roc's flight envelope expansion with the recent addition of the pylon on the aircraft's center wing," Stratolaunch representatives said in a statement yesterday (opens in new tab). (The pylon is the attachment point for hypersonic vehicles Roc will haul aloft.)

Other major objectives met on the flight included reviewing the aircraft's performance, handling and landing gear, the company said.

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

Yesterday's flight came just a week after Roc's sixth sortie, which ended early after Stratolaunch noticed "unexpected results." The company has not yet specified what those results were.

The massive airplane, which has a wingspan of 385 feet (117 m), is designed to release payloads high in the sky for purposes like hypersonic flight. One such payload is Talon-A, Stratolaunch's 28-foot-long (8.5 m) hypersonic vehicle prototype. Talon-A is designed to fly as fast as Mach 6, or six times the speed of sound.

Stratolaunch plans to continue developing Talon-A for hypersonic missions, with operational flights scheduled to begin in 2023, if all goes according to plan. In its most recent release, the company said that the program to get Talon-A ready is making good progress.

"The company is also making solid progress on system integration of its first hypersonic flight test vehicle, TA-1, and on the fabrication of a third vehicle, TA-2, the first fully reusable hypersonic test vehicle," Stratolaunch representatives wrote.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.