Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) — Virgin Galactic unveiled its latest spacecraft on Tuesday. The company plans to resume test flights in the coming months at its headquarters in the desert of New Mexico.
A company official said the vessel, designed and manufactured in California, is likely to be in the summer before it undergoes a gliding flight test in Spaceport America, southern New Mexico. This is in line with the final test of a current-generation spacecraft that will take Sir Richard Branson, a British billionaire and founder of Virgin Galactic, to the outskirts of space later this year.
CEO Michael Colglazier said the addition of a new vessel would one day mark the beginning of Virgin Galactic with a fleet capable of carrying paid customers and scientific payloads from spaceports around the world. The company is still aiming to go into commercial operation next year after months of downtime for testing and maintenance and other upgrades.
Virgin Galactic arrived in space twice for the first time from California in December 2018. The company successfully completed its second glide flight over Spaceport America last June.
Virgin Galactic is one of the few companies looking to fund customers with a space interest. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launched a new capsule in January as part of a test aimed at getting programs for tourists, scientists and professional astronauts into orbit.
Virgin Galactic’s new ship’s mirror-like finish isn’t just about functionality, it’s about aesthetics. An important part of the ship’s thermal protection system, Kolglazier also said that the aircraft was chosen to inherit the look and feel of its surroundings, whether on Earth, in the air or in space.
Another task for the engineer was to create a new version that was easy to manufacture and maintain.
“Obviously, we need a lot of ships to take tens of thousands of people into space, but then how often each of these ships can fly really. It’s important, “said Kolglazier. “We hope that doing this will significantly reduce turnaround times and really help our business grow.”
First, Virgin Galactic requires the approval of the current generation of regulators. This means a successful rocket propellant test flight.
The first power test from Spaceport America was scheduled for December, but a computer problem caused by electromagnetic interference prevented the spacecraft rocket from launching properly. Instead of soaring into space, the ship and its two pilots were forced to land immediately.
The test was rescheduled in February, but was subsequently abandoned as the team continued to work on the issue of interference. The flight is currently scheduled for May, according to Kolglazier.
The delay did not help the stock price. Colglazier said it’s important to focus on the board and meet market expectations, while the company’s focus is on safety at each stage and decades ahead.
“I think this is working, as we want. It’s gradual — that’s what we want to do in manned spaceflight,” he said. “But you can also see the monumental building. I’m excited about this announcement today. I’m excited about May. The coming summer.”