Sir Richard Branson unveils new Virgin Galactic spaceship ahead of crewed flight this year

SIR Richard Branson is putting rocket boosters under his cosmic plans after unveiling Virgin Galactic's third spacecraft.

VSS Imagine sports a mirror-like coating that reflects the surrounding environment, allowing it to change colour and appearance as it travels from Earth to space.

It's also faster and easier to maintain than the New Mexico-based firm's previous two spaceships.

Speaking after the unveiling of the craft on Tuesday, billionaire Sir Richard, 70, hailed Virgin Galactic's "growing fleet of spaceships".

VSS Imagine is part of the company's third generation of rocket planes – which the group says will "lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles".

Virgin Galactic added that the plane was "built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate".


As the new ship is ground-tested, Virgin Galactic will progress the manufacturing of another third generation vehicle, VSS Inspire.

Sir Richard said: "Virgin Galactic spaceships are built specifically to deliver a new, transforming perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of space for themselves.

"As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic's growing fleet of spaceships.

"All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea.


"Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet."

The company said it is targeting 400 flights per year, per spaceport, as part of a multi-year effort.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said: "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.


"Congratulations to our dedicated team who worked so brilliantly to achieve this milestone."

Last year, Virgin Galactic moved its headquarters to New Mexico where it is carrying out an extensive testing programme.

So far, the company has sent five people to space on two separate test flights, but has yet to begin commercial operations.

Company officials said it will likely be summer before the ship designed and built in California undergoes glide flight testing at Spaceport America. 

How Virgin Galactic will fly tourists to space

Unlike most space flight companies, Virgin Galactic will not use a rocket to launch tourists to space.

Instead, its SpaceShipTwo plane will head toward space strapped to an enormous carrier plane called White Knight Two.

At around 50 miles above the Earth's surface – the border of outer space as defined by Nasa – SpaceShipTwo will detach from its mothership.

Within seconds, the space plane will engage its rocket motor and fly at a near-vertical angle  into suborbital space, hitting three and a half times the speed of sound.

After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, the pilots will safely shut it down, giving riders a few minutes of weightlessness.

The pilots will then swivel SpaceShipTwo around and return it to Earth, landing it on a runway like a commercial airliner.

That will coincide with the final round of testing for the current generation of spacecraft.

According to Virgin Galactic, that flight will be the one that takes Sir Richard to the fringes of space later this year.

Unlike most space flight companies, Virgin Galactic does not use a rocket to reach the edge of space.

Instead, its SpaceShipTwo plane gets off the ground strapped to an enormous carrier plane called White Knight Two.

At around 50 miles above the Earth's surface – the border of outer space as defined by Nasa – SpaceShipTwo detaches from its mothership.

Within seconds, the space plane engages its rocket motor and flies at a near-vertical angle into suborbital space, hitting three-and-a-half times the speed of sound.

After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, the pilots shut it down, giving would-be riders a few minutes of weightlessness.

The pilots then swivel SpaceShipTwo around and return to Earth, landing it on a runway like a commercial airliner.

With a hefty price tag of $250,000 (£175,000) a ticket, the 90-minute flight is being aimed at wealthy celebrities and thrillseekers.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has said that "ultimately" he would like to see the price fall as low as $40,000 (£30,700) over the next decade.

Virgin Galactic is up against fierce competition in the private space sector from firms such as Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

SpaceX is due to fly space tourists around the Moon in 2023 while Blue Origin's first crewed flight is scheduled for later this year.

In other news, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has launched a search for eight people to join him on a private trip around the moon with SpaceX.

The world’s first reality show filmed in space will follow a contestant on a 10-day trip to the ISS in 2023.

And, a Nasa has unveiled a new lunar lander that could put astronauts back on the Moon in 2024.

Would you like to go to space one day? Let us know in the comments!

We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online Tech & Science team? Email us at [email protected]

Source: Read Full Article