Virgin Galactic, the privately-funded space company owned by Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, unveiled its newly completed SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s New Spaceship. The rollout ceremony was attended by Sir Richard Branson and his family, Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronauts, and partners. Professor Stephen Hawking named the new vehicle Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity via a recorded speech and said, “I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship.”
Virgin Galactic’s New Spaceship 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 Mojave at FAITH (Final Assembly Integration Test Hangar), the home of manufacturing and testing for Virgin Galactic’s human space flight program. VSS Unity featured a new silver and white livery and was guided into position by one of the company’s support Range Rovers, provided by its exclusive automotive partner Land Rover.
Virgin Galactic’s New Spaceship build process kicked off in 2012 with each component part undergoing rigorous testing before assembly. With VSS Unity now fully manufactured and unveiled, 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. The Spaceship Company has already started work on the next SpaceShipTwo.
Based on the smaller X-PRIZE winning SpaceShipOne designed by Burt Rutan, SpaceShipTwo is designed to take a crew of two pilots and up to six passengers to space. 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 views of our home planet.
Virgin Galactic’s budding commercial spaceline fleet now consists of the spaceship VSS Unity and two dedicated carrier aircraft—the WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve for human spaceflight and the 747-400 Cosmic Girl for the LauncherOne small satellite launch service.
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson said, “Together, we can make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamt of before now, and by doing so can bring positive change to life on Earth. Our beautiful new spaceship, VSS Unity, is the embodiment of that goal and will provide us with an unprecedented body of experience which will in turn lay the foundations for Virgin Galactic’s future. Her creation is also great testament to what can be achieved when true teamwork, great skill and deep pride are combined with a common purpose.” More than 700 people have signed up to fly on Virgin Galactic — even though the company requires $250,000 up front for a seat.
Professor Stephen Hawking said, “A man with the vision and persistence to open up space flight for ordinary, earth-bound citizens, Richard Branson made it his mission to make space flight a reality for those intrepid enough to venture beyond the boundaries of the Earth’s atmosphere. I have had ALS for over fifty years now and while I have no fear of adventure, others do not always take the same view. If I am able to go – and if Richard will still take me, I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship. Space exploration has already been a great unifier – we seem able to cooperate between nations in space in a way we can only envy on Earth. We are entering a new space age and I hope this will help to create a new unity.”