VSS Imagine is the first spacecraft to be added to the company’s growing fleet of suborbital vehicles.
The company is looking to resume test flights in the coming months at its headquarters in the New Mexico desert.
Designed to be reusable faster than SpaceShipTwo, VSS Imagine is the current pillar of the company’s efforts to start its space tourism business in 2022.
“The VSS Imagine spaceship will be the first SpaceShip III to join the fleet, followed by the Inspire, which we are working on converting to our manufacturing hub now,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic.
Functionally, SpaceShip III is the same as the company’s SpaceShipTwo, dubbed VSS Unity.
But SpaceShip III has been designed in a modular way that should allow for a faster response time for re-takeoffs, Kollglazier said.
He added: I designed VSS Imagine in such a way that we could drag a board to access an area that we might not have been able to access in an easy way previously via SpaceShipTwo.
This summer VSS Imagine is preparing to undergo its first slip test – Drop it from the air via its carrier plane and back to Earth – at the company’s Spaceport America facility in New Mexico.
The design modifications that give SpaceShip III a faster renewal advantage over SpaceShipTwo mark Virgin Galactic’s shift in focus to production-intensive operations, as the company prepares for its first customer flight at the start of 2022.
The spacecraft weighs a little less than SpaceShipTwo, and the interior may look a little different, Kollglassier said: What we learned from VSS Unity through flight tests was included in this SpaceShip III class.
The company’s next test flight will come via SpaceShipTwo sometime in May.
That test was delayed for several months after an attempt was aborted in December mid-voyage after the ship ignited its engines after being launched into the air from its parent ship, the VMS Eve.
Last month, company officials said the reason for the attempt was thwarted was the electromagnetic interference that restarted the trip computer.