New SpaceShipTwo Unveiled; No Flight Tests Yet


Virgin Galactic is keeping SpaceShipTwo’s flight schedule under wraps even as the company unveiled the new model at a splashy ceremony Friday at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The company did emphasize the spacecraft is already undergoing an elaborate series of component tests in the name of safety. “Our commitment to safety can be measured in our commitment to testing,” Virgin Galactic executive Mike Moses told the Los Angeles Times. “We have tested thousands of elements of this spaceship, and we will be testing thousands more.” When ready, the spacecraft will take test flights while remaining attached to the WhiteKnightTwo mothership before moving on to gliding and powered flights, the Times reported.

The second SpaceShipTwo, christened VSS Unity on Friday, replaces the one lost to a breakup in 2014, in which co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed and pilot Peter Siebold seriously injured. While similar to the first spacecraft, the new version features upgraded systems the company says were already in the works. The second model was about 65 percent completed when the first SpaceShipTwo accident occurred, according to an Engadget report. Modifications to the feathering mechanism to avoid premature deployment – which caused the breakup – were made after the crash. This new model is also the first vehicle built fully in-house by Virgin Galactic subsidiary The Spaceship Company. The company was partly owned by Scaled Composites, builder of the original SpaceShipTwo, until Virgin Galactic acquired full ownership in 2012.