It was such a big announcement that Sir Richard Branson had to be there. The billionaire adventurer was in Mojave recently to unveil the latest Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, the first vehicle manufactured by The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s owned-and-operated manufacturing arm, and only the second such spaceship of its kind to be manufactured. Eventually, Branson hopes to send a crew of two pilots and six passengers into space.
The craft was unveiled at FAITH (Final Assembly Integration Test Hangar), the Mojave-based home of Virgin Galactic’s human space flight program. The company began building the craft in 2012 with each component having undergone rigorous testing before assembly. Now that the public has seen it, the Spaceship Company will undertake integrated systems verification, followed by a series of ground and flight tests over Mojave. Still more ground and flight tests will take place at its future home at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
“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,” Branson said. “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 foundation for Virgin Galactic’s future.”
The company’s fledgling commercial space fleet features the spaceship VSS Unity, and two carrier aircraft—the WhiteKnightTwo VMS for human spaceflight, and the 747-400 Cosmic Girl for the LauncherOne small satellite launch service. Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave Desert during a 2014 test flight.
George T. Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said the debut of the spaceship may mean that the “future is now” in terms of private commercial flights into space.
“We seek to open space to people from all walks of life, and today’s milestone is a big step toward that goal,” Whitesides said. “Outer space is the province of all humanity, and we think it is about time that all of humanity has a chance to explore it: not just pilots but also painters … not just engineers but also everyday explorers.”
So far, more than 700 tickets have been sold, beginning at a hefty $250,000 each. Virgin Galactic has not indicated whether they’ll charge extra for “carry-on” baggage.