OVirgin Galactic unveiled its latest spacecraft, the VSS on Tuesday Imagine. The ship is the first of the company’s Spaceship III class, with at least two more currently in production. One of the most notable things about the new design is that the whole contraption is covered in a silver metallic material, giving it a retro sci-fi feel. The look, according to company president Mike Moses, came from company founder Richard Branson, who saw the material on the internal surfaces of the company’s current spacecraft, the VSS. Unit, and wanted to cover the next spaceship with it.
“It looks like what spaceships should look like,” says Moses. “That’s why I think he wanted it.
One of the more recent innovations in the Spacecraft III line, says Moses, is that the manufacturing is modular, which means that production of these spacecraft can progress faster. The next spacecraft in the line, which will be called the VSS Inspire, is currently in production.
“It quickly increases the efficiency with which you can build a ship,” says Moses.
An added benefit of the new design, says Moses, is that it reduces maintenance costs and also makes inspections easier. “So I can go around the ship faster and fly more,” he says. “At the end of the day, that’s what our business model demands.”
OOver the next few months, the spacecraft will undergo ground testing at the company’s Mojave test center. When complete, later this summer, it will be airlifted to Spaceport America in New Mexico aboard a Virgin Galactic carrier aircraft, the White Knight Two, which also carries the spacecraft from the company for test flights. Once in New Mexico, the Imagine will undergo further testing prior to its first powered flight.
In the meantime, the company’s spacecraft, the VSS Unit The next test flight is scheduled for May, after the company has spent some time researching and fixing issues with electromagnetic interference and its new flight computer. Moses says he thinks the company has solved this problem, in part thanks to a design imported from the Spaceship III class designs.
If all goes well with the test flight in May, the company will then begin a series of test flights over the summer, one of which will include the Branson itself. Flights will include cabin experience testing for passengers, mission specialists, as well as the company’s capabilities to conduct scientific research in microgravity. All of this will pave the way for Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flights.
“This summer is going to be quite busy with Unit fly and Imagine fly in test flights at the same time, ”says Moses. “It’s going to be great – the spaceport is going to start to look like a spaceport, not just a runway.”