The new SpaceShipTwo is the first vehicle to be manufactured by The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic's wholly owned manufacturing arm, and is the second vehicle of its design ever constructed. VSS Unity was unveiled in FAITH (Final Assembly Integration Test Hangar), the Mojave-based home of manufacturing and testing for Virgin Galactic’s human space flight program. VSS Unity featured a new silver and white livery.
The Spaceship Company will undertake integrated systems verification, followed by ground and flight tests in Mojave and ground and air exercises at its future home in Spaceport America, New Mexico.
Based on the smaller 2004 X-PRIZE winning SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo is designed to take a crew of two pilots and up to six passengers to space - 62 miles (100 km) above the planet.
Virgin Galactic’s space flight experience features an air launch followed by a rocket-powered ascent at three and a half times the speed of sound, the silence of space, several minutes of out-of-seat weightlessness and multiple windowed views of earth.
Nearly 700 people have signed up for rides, which cost $250,000 each.
The biggest difference between the new spacecraft and the previous model is the addition of a pin to prevent a pilot from unlocking the ship’s rotating tail section too soon before descent, which is what triggered the breakup of the first spaceship, said Galactic Chief Executive George Whitesides.
16 months ago, a fatal accident destroyed a sister ship during a test flight over California's Mojave Desert.
The accident was blamed on pilot error and oversights by Northrop Gumman's Scaled Composites division, which designed, built and tested the vehicle.