Virgin Galactic has unveiled the VSS Imagine, the first plane in its SpaceShip III (SS3) fleet. The sleek and shiny spaceship will undergo ground testing immediately. Virgin Galactic is also ramping up production of a second spaceship, VSS Inspire, to add to its suborbital fleet.
Introducing VSS Imagine
The VSS Imagine spacecraft is the latest generation in Virgin Galactic’s spaceship program. The ship, constructed with a ‘mirror-like material’ that ‘reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing color and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space,‘ is set to undergo unpowered gliding tests as early as this summer at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, announced,
“Today we unveiled our SpaceShip III class of vehicles, marking the beginning of the Virgin Galactic fleet. VSS Imagine and Inspire are stunning ships that will take our future astronauts on an incredible voyage to space, and their names reflect the aspirational nature of human spaceflight.”
Imagine, will take you there.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) March 30, 2021
A third-generation spaceship
The aircraft has a ‘modular’ design which offers ‘improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate.’ In other words, it will be much easier to refurb and repair after spaceflights, enabling greater reusability and more frequent flights.
According to Mike Moses, President of Virgin Galactic,
“The fuselage, cabin, the wing-body, the flat plane form of the wings, and then the tail booms – all were built separately.”
It will be configured with six passenger seats and operated by two pilots. When operated, just like Virgin’s VSS Unity, it will be lifted by a carrier aircraft to an altitude of around 50,000 ft before its own rockets take it suborbital.
The new spacecraft’s material will provide thermal protection and ‘is naturally appealing to the human eye, reflecting our inherent human fascination with space and the transformative experience of spaceflight.’ The design and material of VSS Imagine is undoubtedly a quantum leap forward in terms of style, but functionally it will operate very similar to Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo.
Progress across the board
Virgin Galactic is also working on a second SpaceShip III, the VSS Inspire. The company aims to conduct 400 spaceflights per year, per spaceport. It will not only need a bigger fleet to cope with demand, but its spaceships must have a quick turnaround time after each flight. Virgin claims that over 600 people have purchased a ticket for spaceflight so far, with tickets priced at up to $250,000 per seat.
Virgin Galactic is still invested in its second-generation spaceship, the VSS Unity, which is undergoing testing. Unity is set to embark on another powered test flight in May, in what will be its third powered spaceflight overall. An earlier test in December had to be aborted mid-flight after the plane’s engines cut out. Officials later clarified that the malfunction occurred due to electromagnetic interference.
Are you excited about the prospect of suborbital travel? What do you think of the VSS Imagine design? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.