Guidance & Control Software Supplied for Hypersonic UAV Flight Test

Draper’s guidance, navigation and control (GNC) software supported the autonomous operation of Stratolaunch's Talon-A1 test vehicle to achieve its first powered flight By William Mackenzie / 05 Jun 2024
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Draper, a provider of flight systems for space, missile, hypersonic and defense programs, has supplied flight software for the successful first powered flight of Stratolaunch’s Talon-A test vehicle, TA-1.

Guidance & Control Software Supplied for Hypersonic UAV Flight Test

Credit: Stratolaunch.

The inaugural powered Talon-A1 took flight on March 9, 2024. Draper designed, developed, tested and delivered the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) software that supported the TA-1’s autonomous operation.

Stratolaunch builds, tests and operates hypersonic vehicles—those that can travel at least five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5. Draper’s flight software was used on Talon-A, a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle.

The TA-1 flight is the second flight of the Talon-A vehicle model, following the successful unpowered TA-0 drop-test on May 13, 2023, also flown using Draper’s GNC solution. Primary objectives for this flight test included accomplishing safe air-launch release of the TA-1 vehicle, engine ignition, acceleration, sustained climb in altitude and a controlled high-speed flight.

Draper assert that the flight test marks a major milestone in the development of the country’s first privately funded, reusable hypersonic test capability. The company’s flight software expertise has its roots in the Apollo Program, and since then the company has developed GNC solutions for the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, Artemis and a range of civil, commercial and national security customers.

“The flight test demonstrated that Draper’s GNC flight software gave TA-1 exceptional levels of control under challenging conditions, including slow flight, fast supersonic flight and two periods of transonic flight—one accelerating, one decelerating,” stated Ravi Gondhalekar, Ph.D., an aerospace guidance and control research engineer and senior member of the technical staff at Draper.

Dan Gallton, Ph.D., director of space navigation and in-space servicing, assembly and manufacturing (ISAM) for Draper’s Space Systems program office, commented; “Hypersonic flight testing requires robust, agile and modular approaches.

“Draper delivered GNC flight software designed for Stratolaunch’s hypersonic test platforms while successfully managing evolving requirements in vehicle equipment, flight scenarios and mission parameters, demonstrating once again the durability of Draper’s GNC flight software.”

Brian Pincock, Talon-A Vehicle Management System Lead, added; “Draper has been a great partner to Stratolaunch as we have completed two successful flights of the Talon-A vehicle. Draper’s experience and the quality GNC flight software produced by their team were integral to these achievements in the advancement of hypersonic technology maturity.”

Posted by William Mackenzie Connect & Contact