Virgin Galactic took to YouTube to briefly reveal its first SpaceShip III, which will begin ground tests and “glides” later this year. It’s an eye-catching ship, channeling that Star Wars: The Phantom Menace The Naboo ship looks wonderful. It’s finished with a mirror-like material that’s believed to reflect its surroundings, whether it’s the blackness of space or the blue of Earth’s atmosphere. It’s not just a question of aesthetics: it also offers thermal protection.
Virgin Galactic’s third-generation SpaceShip has a modular design, aimed at making incremental upgrades easier and less expensive. According to the company, Imagine: “will lay the foundations for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.” With the start of flight tests on this first vessel, the company is already working on VSS Inspire. Virgin Galactic aims to make 400 flights per year, per spaceport and it will need more than one ship to achieve this.
In the more immediate future, Virgin Galactic is focusing on its next test flight for VSS Unity, a SpaceShipTwo model. Testing is scheduled for May 2021, but has been repeatedly postponed for further technical checks after the company’s December 2020 test failed. SpaceShipTwo might not be that bright, but it’s still a very expensive prototype ship. And if you’re expecting your first space tourism trips, it’s probably 2022, if not later.