Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic unveils new Spaceship III
The rocket-powered spaceplane could fire tourists, including celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio, into space.
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Virgin Galactic has unveiled its latest spaceplane model, the SpaceShip III, the first of which will be named VSS Imagine.
The dynamic material isn’t simply appealing to the human eye, “reflecting our inherent human fascination with space and the transformative experience of spaceflight”, the company says, but also provides thermal protection.
The next SpaceShip III vehicle to be added to the Virgin Galactic fleet will be called the VSS Inspire as the company pushes towards flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.
It comes ahead of the next test flight of the Mark II spaceplane, VSS Unity, which is scheduled for this May.
Although the air-launched spaceplane was successfully carried to an altitude of about 9.4 miles (15km), it did not decouple from its mother ship as planned due to a technical issue which has since been resolved.
The mission cancellation followed tragedy striking during the company’s first test launch in 2014, when the SpaceShip II vehicle broke apart during its flight and crashed, killing one pilot while the other was seriously injured after parachuting.
Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft work by decoupling from their mother ships before their rocket fires them into sub-orbital space 50 miles (80km) above the Earth, exposing the crew and cargo to more than two minutes of microgravity.
There are arguments as to whether the 50 mile altitude qualifies as outer space, with the US government stating this is the boundary of space, although some standards identify the boundary at 62 miles (100km).
Michael Colglazier, Virgin Galactic’s chief executive, said: “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.”
“Our 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.”