Pioneering spaceflight company Virgin Galactic uncovered a new spacecraft last month. The spacecraft, named VSS Imagine was designed to fly both people and science experiments to suborbital space. The new spacecraft, which was unveiled on March 30, is surrounded by a silvery coat that the company calls “mirror-like”, which is designed to give a more visually appealing experience to customers. This polished coating will also double as extra thermal insulation for the spacecraft. The VSS Imagine is the first addition to the company’s Spaceship III fleet, which will also feature an upgraded modular design that makes the spacecraft easier to maintain, as well as improve flight rate. Virgin Galactic has also stated in a statement that introduction of the Spaceship III fleet is an important milestone in its plan to fly 400 trips to suborbital space each year. Flight tests for the VSS Imagine are scheduled to begin this summer at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
VSS Imagine is similar in appearance to VSS Unity, which is Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship II, which has been in trial testing for over a decade. The VSS Imagine, however, is much easier to manufacture than VSS Unity. The reason for this is quite simply because all its parts can be built at the same time before assembly into the final vehicle. In addition, due to an improvement in design, VSS Imagine is a lighter-weight plane which means it has a higher carrying capacity. Virgin Galactic, however, is still continuing to test VSS Unity with its next trial run scheduled for May. This will be the spacecraft’s fourth test flight, following two previous test flights that were successful, and another test flight in December of last year that had to be abandoned mid-flight due to the engine cutting out too early.
According to a BBC article, Virgin Galactic has been in the development phase for almost two decades. However, the company expects to be able to fly its founder Richard Branson to space later this year. It anticipates beginning full commercial operations at this time as well. The company is based in New Mexico, where its spacecraft launch site, as well as its business facility, is located. This site, called Spaceport America, has been the home base of Virgin Galactic since 2019, after being unoccupied for almost a decade. The building was revamped to include a lounge and other amenities for customers, which will hopefully be able to begin planning their trips aboard the spaceships. Currently, Virgin Galactic has 600 customers who have each agreed to pay between $200,000 to $250,000 to reserve a seat. However, the company expects to begin offering tickets once they pass their trial tests, and it is likely to increase the price to over $250,000 for each ticket. So, if it has always been your dream to go to space, you have got to start saving!
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