Virgin Galactic introduced the first of its SpaceShip III suborbital spaceplanes, named VSS Imagine, on Tuesday. The third generation SpaceShip features a modular design that will, the company says, “enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate.” Virgin Galactic is also in the process of building the second member of the SpaceShip III fleet, VSS Inspire.
“Today we unveiled our SpaceShip III class of vehicles, marking the beginning of the Virgin Galactic fleet,” said Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier. “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.”
According to Virgin Galactic, Imagine’s livery design includes a “mirror-like material” that reflects the environment around the aircraft. The spaceplane is expected to begin ground testing shortly with glide flights planned for this summer. Like previous SpaceShip generations, SpaceShip III models will launch from carrier aircraft, which ferry them to altitudes of up to 50,000 feet. SpaceShipTwo model VSS Unity is also scheduled for its next test flight in May.