- Virgin Galactic unveiled its latest spacecraft, the VSS Imagine, this week.
- It's the first of a new class of vehicles the firm is developing for suborbital space tourism.
- VSS Imagine will begin testing this year, the company said.
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Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic this week unveiled its newest spacecraft, the VSS Imagine. It's the first of the company's third-generation SpaceShip III vehicles.
The commercial spaceflight company will begin testing the spacecraft this year, conducting ground tests and glide flights out of its New Mexico Spaceport America. Virgin plans to eventually fly tourists into suborbital space and aims to eventually facilitate 400 flights per year at each of its spaceports.
The new vehicle, according to Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier, is integral to those plans.
"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," he said in a statement.
The new vehicle has a more modular design than its predecessors, making it easier to maintain and reducing the time between flights, Virgin said. VSS Imagine will "lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles," according to the firm.
The VSS Imagine has a mirrored finish that provides "thermal protection," but also gives the spacecraft a striking look, Virgin said. While VSS Imagine undergoes testing, Virgin will start production on its next SpaceShip III vehicle, VSS Inspire.
VSS Imagine is Virgin Galactic's third spacecraft. Its first spaceship, VSS Enterprise, was obliterated in a fatal crash in 2014. Its next ship, VSS Unity, last flew in February 2019 and is set to undergo a test flight in May 2021.
Hundreds of people have already paid Virgin Galactic R3 million to R3.6 million for tickets to suborbital space.