The process of getting to space has been a multi-stage one. Different stages of chemical rockets can be used, but it doesn't have to be that way. NASA has been working on a project that is getting closer to commercialization for the last decade. The Towed-Glider Air Launch System uses a business jet, glider, and two rockets. It's main advantage is that airports large enough to host a business jet could become spaceports.
It is a tempting proposition as spaceport access is limited. Chemical rockets can't be supported by launch pads. ULA and SpaceX own a combined six spaceports in the US, which makes up a large portion of private spaceports in the country.
There is a chance that some of the public airports could be used as launch sites. Standard chemical rockets can't be used to make that happen. Why not take a plane? Are you talking about a glider? Better still, both?
TGALS is a business class jet that pulls a glider behind it for take-off and takes that glider up to about 12 km altitude. The glider disengages from the plane at that time. The jet is on the ground.
The glider uses a small rocket engine to angle itself upward after leaving the plane. A full-blown chemical rocket is released from the gliders underside and starts its own burn. The glider is guided back to the airfield it left from, ready for another ride. The cost of the whole system is a relatively small one.
Since both the glider and business jet are re-usable, it's possible that the cost of getting to space could be lowered by 40%. There aren't any potentially explodable rockets near an aircraft with a human in it The business jet towing the glider will most likely be fine if it explodes in the air.
NASA has been working on a scale model of the system for the past seven years after releasing promotional material for it back in 2015. The company called Fenix Space is located in California, but they are looking for more partners to help with the system's commercialization.
They may be able to look at another part of the government. TGALS might be able to integrate with the Department of Defense's long running hypersonic test program. The TGALS system could be used to track hypersonic missiles instead of using a system of Global Hawk aircraft.
There is a lot of promise for this technology, but it will face a lot of opposition. Some people have been put up to suborbital altitudes with Spaceship Two. The commercial prospects of a cheaper launch system could be affected by the upcoming launch of Starship. Heavy lifters will not be able to take off from a regular airport.
You can learn more.
NASA is developing technology to bring space launch to airports.
The TGALS is a NASA project.
The mystery is likely to be an airplane.
UT is the world's biggest aircraft, and it has completed its first test flight.