Virgin Galactic unveils VSS Imagine, the first SpaceShip III in its growing fleet

VSS Imagine sits on the flightline at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Virgin Galactic)

On March 30, Virgin Galactic unveiled the newest addition to its growing fleet.

VSS Imagine is the company’s second piloted space plane, and is the first of its next-generation SpaceShip III class.

Imagine will start ground testing, with glide flights planned for this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico. In the meantime, VSS Unity continues final development testing with its next spaceflight scheduled for May.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said, “Today we unveiled our SpaceShip III class of vehicles, marking the beginning of the Virgin Galactic fleet. 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,” he said. “Congratulations to our dedicated team who worked so brilliantly to achieve this milestone.”

VSS Imagine is the third spacecraft built by the company — VSS Enterprise was destroyed in a flight test accident in 2014. Colglazier said Imagine “has been designed in a way that’s taken the learnings we’ve had from all the flight testing on Unity.

“That allows us to access things in the right way — we know what things need to be tackled on a routine basis, so that we can give people easy access,” Colglazier said.

Virgin Galactic unveiled its third generation spacecraft, the VSS Imagine, on March 30, 2021, at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Virgin Galactic photograph)

Unity and Imagine are two-pilot, six-passenger spacecraft that are designed to launch from beneath the wings of a carrier aircraft at an altitude of about 50,000 feet. Once launched, the spacecraft’s onboard rocket motor lights up, blasting it into suborbital space.

VSS Imagine livery design, finished entirely with a mirror-like material, reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing color and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space. Along with providing thermal protection, this dynamic material is naturally appealing to the human eye, reflecting our inherent human fascination with space and the transformative experience of spaceflight.

Leveraging a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. This third generation of spaceship will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.

As VSS Imagine begins ground testing, manufacturing will progress on VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic fleet. The introduction of the Spaceship III class of vehicles is an important milestone in Virgin Galactic’s multi-year effort that targets flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.

Future Astronauts are invited to be part of every step along the Virgin Galactic journey.  One of Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronauts, Dee Chester, had a unique opportunity to play her part in the rollout of VSS Imagine, as her Astronaut Edition Range Rover towed the new spaceship out of the hangar for the first time.

“Virgin Galactic spaceships are built specifically to deliver a new, transforming perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of space for themselves,” said Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic founder. “As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships. All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea. Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet.”

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