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Virgin Galactic Unveils New SpaceShipTwo Vehicle

The VSS Unity will replace Virgin Galactic's former SpaceShipTwo plane, which crashed during a test flight in 2014.

The Verge

Today, private space tourism company Virgin Galactic unveiled the new version of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, dubbed the VSS Unity. It’s the spacecraft that the company wants to use to send paying customers into sub-orbital space someday. The VSS Unity will ultimately replace Virgin Galactic’s former SpaceShipTwo plane, called the VSS Enterprise, which crashed during a test flight in 2014; the accident claimed the life of one the vehicle’s pilots and severely injured the co-pilot.

The VSS Unity was shown off today at a special ceremony at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California, where Virgin Galactic conducts its flight tests. Outwardly, the vehicle is nearly identical to its predecessor. It will also launch and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere the same as before. But the spacecraft differs from the previous vehicle in a few key areas. For one, this version is much more automated. The first SpaceShipTwo crashed partly because of pilot error, so this vehicle has new fail-safes in place to protect pilots from making critical mistakes during flight. The vehicle’s rocket engine will also use a different rubber-like fuel, something that will make combustion more efficient, the company said; but this new fuel has also been known to cause Virgin Galactic engine trouble in the past.

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