Virgin Galactic, a US-based commercial spaceflight company, has unveiled its next-generation ‘VSS Imagine’ spacecraft, which has a unique ability to mirror its surroundings.
The spacecraft will now be a part of Virgin Galactic’s fleet of next-generation spacecraft called Spaceship III. The Las Cruces-headquartered company is also planning to start the development of its next spacecraft called ‘VSS Inspire’.
VSS Imagine will be the third spacecraft of the company as it continues the final development testing on VSS Unity, which has a spaceflight test in May.
The company’s first model, known as the VSS Enterprise, was destroyed during a test flight in 2014.
Virgin Galactic will begin the ground testing of the VSS Imagine spacecraft soon. The glide flight tests of the spacecraft have been planned for this year’s summer and will be held at the company’s Spaceport America complex in New Mexico.
According to Michael Colglazier, the Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, with the addition of VSS Imagine, the company now possesses a fleet that will one-day ferry customers and scientific payloads from spaceports around the globe.
He says that the company is still looking to meet its goal of starting commercial operations next year.
This will be achieved after the completion of testing procedures and a few months of downtime for maintenance and other upgrades to the spacecraft.
“Obviously for us to take tens of thousands of people to space, we need a number of ships. But it really matters then how often can each of these ships fly. We expect as we get going on this to see a much quicker turnaround time and that really will help us grow the business,” said Colglazier.
The VSS Imagine has a unique physical appearance due to its shiny, silvery finish, which is actually more than just a style feature. The spacecraft has been finished with a mirror-like material, which reflects the vehicle’s surroundings, from the ground all the way up to space and back.
The mirror-like material offers the spacecraft thermal protection, while also mirroring the colors of the surrounding environment, helping it blend in wherever it is flying.
Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, also spoke on the physical appearance of the new spacecraft. “As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at but represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships.”