Virgin Galactic Unveils New Spaceship
Virgin Galactic unveils new spaceship that could take tourists to space
Virgin Galactic’s race to become the first major private space tourism company just got closer to reality! Last week company rolled out a new version of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle. It was dubbed the “Unity”, a name chosen by renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, Virgin Galaxy said in a tweet. The space tourism company in which Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments has a 37.8 per cent stake, has unveiled a new commercial spaceship, more than a year after its predecessor crashed and killed one of its pilots.
The space line founded by Sir Richard Branson unveiled the craft at California’s Mojave Air & Space Port, where it was assembled. It marked the beginning of a testing phase for the SpaceShipTwo, and the company underscored that commercial space flights would not be available until Virgin Galactic was satisfied it could carry them out safely. “As we celebrate the end of one critical phase of work, we also mark the start of a new phase, one focused on further testing and, ultimately, the first commercial human spaceflight programme in history,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement.
SpaceShipTwo is designed to be flown by a crew of two and carry up to six passengers on a high-speed, suborbital flight to the fringes of space. At an altitude above 62 miles, passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the Earth below. Despite the hefty $250,000 price tag, more than 600 would-be astronauts have already signed up, including Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher.
However, the company’s efforts faced a major setback when the first version of the SpaceShipTwo disintegrated over California’s Mojave Desert on October 31, 2014, with investigators blaming premature brake deployment during the test flight.The pilot was injured but successfully deployed his parachute, while the co-pilot was killed. “It’s not an easy business. If it was an easy business we wouldn’t only have had 500 people having been to space since space travel started,” Mr Branson told Sky News.“There’s a tremendous, exciting future but obviously it’s tough,” he said.
“The most important thing is that we get the test programme done and completed so we can send people safely into space. And start a programme where this spaceship can go into space hundreds of times in the years to come,” said Mr Branson.“So we’re not going to hurry it, it will go step by step and when our test pilots say we’re ready, then I’ll go up and that will be the start of bringing other people up as well.”
Testing on the SpaceShipTwo, which Sir Richard Branson said was constructed by a team of 650 engineers, will begin with the electrical system and moving parts, followed by flights attached to the WhiteKnightTwo mothership before progressing to glide testing. “Because our new vehicle is so similar to its predecessor, we benefit from incredibly useful data from 55 successful test flights as well as the brutal but important lessons from one tragic flight test accident,” Virgin Galactic said in its statement.
The company decked out one of the spaceport’s test hangars into something reminiscent of a night club for the event; dark blue lighting flashed and loud theatrical music swelled when SpaceShipTwo emerged from behind a large black curtain. The vehicle was then pulled forward into the center of the hangar by a white Land Rover carrying Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who waved his hands about wildly.
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