MOJAVE — Virgin Galactic rolled out its newest aircraft, the suborbital SpaceShip III VSS Imagine in Tuesday, March 30. The sleek new ship, built in Mojave, demonstrates the space company efforts in reaching for the stars as it seeks a spot in the private commercial space market.
VSS Imagine also represents the first in the Spaceship III class and will be heading to Spaceport America in New Mexico for glide tests this summer after it goes through ground-based trials first.
According to Virgin Galactic, the ship’s modular design represents the ship’s top feature. The Imagine was built “to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate.”
A second spacecraft, the VSS Inspire, is already set to begin manufacturing in Mojave as the Imagine begins its ground testing operations.
Virgin Galactic said the third generation of the Spaceship class “will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.”
But it was the ship’s sleek design that company founder Richard Branson hyped up in Tuesday’s video introduction.
The engineering team designed the ship using a material to reflect the surrounding environment. It changes colors and appearance as it travels from the ground into space. And according to Virgin, the “dynamic material is naturally appealing to the human eye, reflecting our inherent human fascination with space and the transformative experience of spaceflight.”
Branson in the video introduction said it was designed to invoke the imagination.
“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,” Branson said. “As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships.”
Branson added Virgin Galactic’s “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 Spaceship III class, while similar in design to its older siblings, incorporates a modular system designed specifically for quicker manufacturing processes, according to CEO Michael Colglazier.
“We can create different parts of the vehicle concurrently and bring them in for assembly,” Colglazier said. “This helps speed the manufacturing process and also allows us to maintain the ships more effectively and efficiently.”
Colglazier called it an important aspect because “not only do we need a number of ships in the fleet but we are looking quickly to see how each ship can fly.”
“This marks the beginning of our fleet for Virgin Galactic,” Colglazier said. “We are starting to build up the fleet as we enter commercial service.”
Virgin Galactic aims to eventually target 400 flights per year, per spaceport.
“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,” Colglazier said. “Congratulations to our dedicated team who worked so brilliantly to achieve this milestone.”
The Imagine was unveiled roughly a month before the planned flight test of the VSS Unity in May. The Unity is a Spaceship II-class vessel. According to Colglzier, the Unity and its ill-fated sister ship the VSS Enterprise, are designed for test flight process.
The ships are launched from the air from its carrier plane, currently White Knight Two, a quadjet cargo aircraft developed by Scaled Composites.
“Having both Imagine and Unity up in the sky will be an exciting time for us all,” Branson said in the video.
The Unity has remained grounded since December after a test flight revealed the ship’s computer systems suffered electromagnetic interference. The company in February reported it would change the Unity’s flight-control system to eliminate the inference.
Virgin plans another three flight tests with the Unity over the summer and fall with a full crew.