Virgin Galactic deployed its latest spacecraft on Tuesday as the company plans to resume test flights in the coming months at its headquarters in the New Mexico desert.
Company officials have said it will likely be the summer before the ship – designed and manufactured in California – undergoes glide testing at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico. This will coincide with the latest round of tests for the current generation of spacecraft, which will be the one that takes British billionaire and Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson to the outer reaches of space later this year.
CEO Michael Colglazier said the addition of the new ship marks the start of Virgin Galactic having a fleet that will one day be able to carry paying customers and science payloads from space ports around the world. The company is still aiming for business operations to begin next year after testing and a few months of downtime for maintenance and other upgrades.
Virgin Galactic has already reached space twice – the first time from California in December 2018. The company celebrated its second successful glide over Spaceport America last June.
Virgin Galactic is one of the few companies looking to take advantage of customers interested in space. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launched a new capsule in January as part of a test to get its program off the ground for tourists, scientists and professional astronauts.
The mirror-like finish of Virgin Galactic’s new ship is as much a question of appearance as it is function. A key part of the ship’s thermal protection system, Colglazier said it was also chosen so that the craft could take on the look and feel of its surroundings – whether on Earth, in the sky or in the sky. space.
The other task of the engineers was to create a new version that would be easier to manufacture and maintain.
“Obviously, in order for us to take tens of thousands of people into space, we need a number of ships. But it really matters how often each of these ships can fly, ”said Colglazier. “We expect that we will move forward in that direction to see a much faster turnaround time and it will really help us grow the business. ”
First, Virgin Galactic needs regulatory approval for the current generation and that means successful rocket-powered test flights.
Spaceport America’s first powered test was scheduled for December, but computer problems caused by electromagnetic interference prevented the spacecraft’s rocket from firing properly. Instead of flying into space, the ship and its two pilots were forced to make an immediate landing.
The test was postponed to February, but dropped as the team continued to work on the interference issue. Colglazier said the flight is now scheduled for May.
The delay did not help stock prices. Colglazier said that while it is important to put the points on the board and meet market expectations, the company is focused on safety at every step and in the decades to come.
“I think it moves the way we want it to move. It’s in stages – that’s what we want to do with manned space flight, ”he said,“ but you can also see the monument building. We are delighted with this unveiling today. and we’re excited for the month of May and we’re excited for the summer to come. ”
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