Virgin Galactic has unveiled a new mirrored spaceship called the VSS Imagine, designed to reflect the environment around it as it moves through clouds and into space.
The new spacecraft is the third generation aircraft developed by New Mexico-based Virgin Galactic. It will be more modular and allow for faster development as the number of flights increases from 2022 onwards.
VSS Imagine glide flights in Earth’s atmosphere are slated to begin in the skies over New Mexico this summer, followed by suborbital flights in subsequent years if initial tests are successful.
Founder Sir Richard Branson will fly to the edge of space by the end of the summer, confirmed the company, and flew on VSS Unity, the current second generation spaceplane and aircraft that will be in commercial use in early 2022.
Before Branson can acquire its commercial astronaut wings this summer, Virgin Galactic will conduct two test flights starting May, the first with only pilots and the second with a full crew to the edge of space.
No details were released about the cost of the new spacecraft or the price of tickets, but it is rumored that SpaceShipTwo has cost about $ 400 million (£ 290 million) to develop.
Virgin Galactic has unveiled a new spacecraft called the VSS Imagine, designed to reflect the environment around it as it moves through clouds into space
Sir Richard Branson (pictured), founder of Virgin Galactic, is expected to earn his astronaut wings before the end of summer
VSS IMAGINE: THE THIRD GENERATION JIRGIN GALACTIC SPACESHIP
VSS Imagine is the third generation Virgin Galactic spaceship.
It has been designed to be more modular and enables faster changes and developments.
It operates at the same altitude and for the same purpose as VSS Unity, the second generation spaceship.
The first in its class was SpaceShipOne, which won the X award for the famous Burt Rutan aircraft.
This was developed into SpaceShipTwo, which VSS Unity is based on.
VSS Imagine is the third generation, also known as Spaceship III.
One major change concerns the paintwork. Imagine you have a reflective surface to reflect the surroundings outside.
This is so that the ship appears to change as it moves from Earth into space.
Work on a second spaceship III, named VSS Inspire according to the space company, has already begun.
VSS Imagine is the first spaceplane based on the Spaceship III vehicle class.
According to Virgin Galactic, the new spaceplane demonstrates the companies’ innovation in design and astronaut experience.
According to the aerospace company, “it shows progress towards efficient design and production”.
The new generation vehicle has been designed to be easier to scale. The production of the sister vehicle VSS Inspire is already running in California.
“The second Starship III vehicle, VSS Inspire, is underway as we have the construction of VSS Imagine out of the way,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, told MailOnline.
Imagine starting out with soil tests. Gliding flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico are planned for this summer.
“Imagine the first one goes on the ground tests first, then we bring in our mothership Eve, pick up Imagine in California, and fly Imagine to Spaceport America, where we begin flight tests on Imagine,” said Colglazier.
The functional purpose of Imagine is very similar to that of VSS Unity: it was designed to soar about 50 miles above the surface, allow passengers to be weightless and see the earth, and then slide back to the ground.
The main differences between second and third generation ships are in the way they are manufactured and assembled in order to maintain and turn the vehicles faster, Colgazier told MailOnline.
“We’re still going to go through a series of glide tests, then a series of powered flights, one at a time,” he said.
However, he added that the insights gained through VSS Unity mean the process of preparing for the Imagine flight will likely be much faster.
VSS Imagine features a breakthrough paint design made entirely from a mirror-like material that reflects its surroundings and changes color and appearance as it travels from Earth through the sky to space, a Virgin Galactic spokesperson explained.
“This dynamic material not only offers thermal protection, but of course also appeals to the human eye and reflects our inherent human fascination for space and the transformative experience of space travel.”
The new Spaceship III vehicle class is more “modular” than previous designs, according to the space tourism company, allowing for improved maintenance.
This third generation of spaceships will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles that will be more mass-produced. This is part of the goal of offering 400 flights per year.
The new spaceship is the third generation vehicle developed by New Mexico-based Virgin Galactic. It will be more modular and allow for faster development
THE KARMAN LINE: WHERE ASTRONAUTS GET THEIR WINGS
There is no precise definition of the “edge of space”, but the UN, NASA, and others historically accept the Karman Line as the limit.
This has grown in importance since the 1950s when space travel began, since that is where an astronaut gets his wings.
The Karman Line is defined as 60 miles above sea level, the boundary between atmosphere and space.
The International Space Station is 253 miles above the surface and the first human step, Yuri Gagarin, flew 187 miles above the planet.
‘It’s mostly a production talk. The unit was set up, we stacked it and put it all together, we left it sitting there and all things come together, which is helpful for a demonstrator but not the fastest process, ”Colgazier told MailOnline.
‘The design of the Spaceship III class was created in parts so that we can create an assembly here and there in parallel.
“Then assembled in a way that is more convenient, in a way that is done for flight cycle time.”
The longer-term goal is to have multiple spaceports around the world, each with a different journey into space and back to Earth, explained Colgazier.
Initially, there will be a handful of flights departing and arriving from Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic’s new base.
“We’re going to start at SpacePort America New Mexico, but I think the experience we’ve had and what we can do around a spaceport will convince other communities and other governments,” he told MailOnline.
“If we go to the nearest spaceport, we can get up a lot faster.
‘The possible number of spaceports we will see, but we are very optimistic about our ability to travel to other parts of the world and share this with other countries.
“I think the perspective of the planet will be different and the experience around it will be different for each place we fly from.”
VSS Imagine glide flights in the Earth’s atmosphere are slated to begin this summer, followed by orbital flights in subsequent years if the tests are successful
VSS Imagine will be officially launched ahead of the next VSS Unity test flight, scheduled for May 2021, the first of two leading up to Branson’s summer flight.
Richard Branson said, “Virgin Galactic spaceships were purpose built to bring a new, transformative perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of outer space for themselves.
‘As a SpaceShip III vehicle class, Imagine is not only beautiful to look at, it also represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships.
The introduction of the Spaceship III class marks a major milestone in Virgin Galactic’s multi-year ambition to fly 400 flights per year per space travel
SCHEDULE: VSS UNITY STARTS
From May 2021: The start of two two VSS Unity test flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The first will fly alone with the pilots, the second will include a full load to test the passenger cabin.
Summer 2021: Passenger test flight with Sir Richard Branson.
Developed to present the astronaut experience through the eyes of the company founder.
September 2021: First revenue-generating flight with the Italian Air Force to test passengers and payload.
This flight will bring both astronauts and scientific equipment to the edge of space with VSS Unity.
Beginning of 2022: The start of Spaceport America’s full commercial flights.
The dozen of future astronauts who paid to fly to the edge of space will start earning their astronaut wings.
‘All great successes, creations and changes start with an idea. We hope that everyone who goes to space will return with new perspectives and new ideas that will positively change our planet. ‘
VSS Unity will complete two powered flights from New Mexico before flying Richard Branson on a third powered flight before the end of summer, the company confirmed.
Colgazier said the flight with Sir Richard will show what is possible with the private astronaut program so that future astronauts can see the flight through the eyes of the company’s founder.
After the flight with Sir Richard, Virgin Galactic will then conduct a fourth powered flight with the Italian Air Force. This is the first revenue-generating flight with people in the cabin and is expected to complete the test program.
Virgin Galactic anticipates this flight is likely to take place in late summer or early fall, with September being tentatively selected as the start month.
Virgin Galactic expects VSS Unity to be ready to fly private astronauts as well as payloads for scientific research in early 2022.
VSS Imagine is expected to join the operational fleet in the following years as the number of annual flights increases dramatically.
The company is testing the payload potential of science and research with the flight of the Italian Air Force in September, which it claims will “generate revenue”.
“This will be the first full revenue flight and will show what we can do with scientific research and how we can use spaceships for astronaut training,” said Colgazier.
According to Virgin Galactic, the expected dates can adjust as the company processes data from each of its test flights.
VSS Imagine will be picked up from California’s mother ship VMS Eve and flown to New Mexico for gliding this summer
THE CURRENT JIRGIN GALACTIC FLEET
VMS Eve: The launch platform for the Virgin Galactic vehicles based on SpaceShipTwo and Spaceship III.
VMS stands for Virgin MotherShip and is named after Evette Branson, mother of founder Sir Richard Branson.
So far only one has been built and the first flight took place in December 2008.
VSS unit: Based on the SpaceShip Two vehicle class, it is a rocket propelled glider.
As a replacement for the destroyed VSS Enterprise, Unity first flew into space in December 2018.
It has reached an altitude of 50 miles and earned its pilots commercial astronaut wings for the first time in 2018.
VSS imagine: The first spaceship class of Spaceship III is scheduled to begin sliding tests in the summer of 2021.
VSS Inspire: The second class of Starship III class, currently being built in California by the Spaceship Company.
A future market for future versions of the Virgin Galactic’s spaceships could be to get people from one point on earth to another at high speed.
The small vehicles could see people going to the edge of space, moving around the earth, and landing somewhere else on the planet in a matter of hours.
“Virgin Galactic is exploring what you can do point-to-point at high speed. It’s early days and early drafts, we think it could be an interesting market, ”Colgazier told MailOnline, adding that they’ll see where the trajectory goes.
This is the third generation ship that has been built since the original SpaceShipOne and received the X award for famous aircraft designer Burt Rutan.
The Ansari X Prize awarded $ 10 million to the first non-governmental organization to launch a reusable crewed spaceship twice within two weeks.
It was won by Rutan on the aircraft that later evolved into the VSS Unity and VMS Eve, the mothership that launched Unity into space.
According to Colgazier, Spaceship IV is just around the corner, although Spaceship III has just been unveiled.
‘We have already focused on the second class of Starship III and are now looking forward to the fourth generation of starships.
“Internally we call this the Delta class, so Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and this will be more of a production spaceship model that we can build in a production facility for production facilities with more parallel-built ones.”
Colgazier told MailOnline that this is the point where the number of ships within the fleet will increase dramatically from the handful today.
“If we increase our number and it is our turn, we get the volume.”
HOW DOES RICHARD BRANSONS JUNGFRAU GALACTIC DO HIS SPACE FLIGHTS?
Unlike other commercial space companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic launches its flights without the use of a traditional rocket launch.
Instead, the company launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other vehicles from a carrier aircraft called the WhiteKnightTwo.
WhiteKnightTwo is a custom built, four-engine, two-fuselage jet aircraft that transports SpaceShipTwo to a height of 15,240 meters.
The first WhiteKnightTwo, VMS Eve, which Virgin Galactic used on all test flights, was launched in 2008 and has a large payload capacity at high altitude.
Unlike other commercial space companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic launches its flights without the use of a traditional rocket launch. Instead, the company launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other vehicles from a carrier aircraft called the WhiteKnightTwo. Once SpaceShipTwo has moved into space, the engines will be turned off for a period of weightlessness before returning home
As soon as it reaches 15,240 meters, the carrier aircraft will release SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spaceship designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space.
Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity – the vehicle the company has used on all test flights – although the company is expected to build more in the future.
According to Virgin Galactic, SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor activates “within seconds” of being released from WhiteKnightTwo.
The vehicle then flies about three and a half times as fast as the sound (4,300 km / h) in the suborbital space and reaches up to 110,000 m (360,890 ft) above the earth’s surface.
WhiteKnightTwo (artist impression) is a purpose-built, four-engine, two-fuselage jet aircraft that transports SpaceShipTwo to a height of 15,240 meters.
This altitude is defined by NASA as beyond the edge of space.
After the rocket motor fires for about a minute, the pilots turn it off and passengers can buckle up for a few minutes of weightlessness.
The pilots maneuver the spaceship for the best possible view of Earth and space while raising the wings of the vehicle to the “feathered” re-entry configuration that slows the vehicle and stabilizes the descent.
As gravity pulls the spaceship back into the upper atmosphere of the earth, astronauts return to their seats to return to our planet.
At an altitude of 15,240 meters (50,000 feet), upon re-entry, the pilot will return the wings of the spacecraft to their normal configuration and be ready to return to Earth for a smooth landing on the runway.
As soon as it reaches 15,240 meters, the carrier aircraft will release SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spaceship designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured) – the vehicle the company has used on all test flights – although the company is expected to produce more in the future