Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic unveiled a new space plane on Tuesday dubbed VSS Imagine, the first SpaceShip III to add to the company’s growing fleet of suborbital vehicles. It’s a shiny chrome-colored ship designed for faster reuse than SpaceShipTwo, the current centerpiece of the company’s efforts to launch its space tourism business in 2022.
“Imagine will be the first of our SpaceShip IIIs to join the fleet,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic. The edge. “It will be followed by Inspire, whose manufacturing we are now pivoting.”
Functionally, SpaceShip III is the same as the company’s SpaceShipTwo, dubbed VSS Unit. But SpaceShip III is designed in a “modular” fashion, which will allow faster turnaround time for re-flights, Colglazier said. It’s designed in such a way that “we can remove a panel to access an area that we might not have been able to easily reach before” with SpaceShipTwo.
VSS Imagine’s first glide test – the mid-air drop of its carrier aircraft to return to land – is scheduled for this summer at Spaceport America’s facilities in New Mexico.
The design changes that give SpaceShip III a faster retrofit advantage over SpaceShipTwo mark Virgin Galactic’s shift in focus to production-intensive operations, as the company prepares for a first customer flight early in the year. 2022. The vehicle weighs slightly less than SpaceShipTwo, and the interior cabin may look a little different. “In general, what we learned in Unity through flight testing has been incorporated into this SpaceShip III class,” said Colglazier.
The company’s next motorized test flight, SpaceShipTwo, will take place in May. This test was delayed for several months after a December attempt was aborted in mid-flight, just as the ship ignited its engines after being released in flight from its mothership, the VMS Eve. Company officials said in an earnings call last month that the shutdown was caused by electromagnetic interference that led to a restart of a flight computer.