Virgin Galactic has unveiled a new spaceship just over year after that craft’s predecessor crashed during a test flight, killing one of its two pilots.
The Long Beach company unveiled the new ship, VSS Unity, at Mojave Air & Space Port Friday. Virgin Galactic said it would continue to pursue the goal of putting tourists into space despite the October 2014 crash of its SpaceShipTwo, which was caused when one of the pilots prematurely deployed tail surfaces.
“When we had the space accident, that gave us 24 hours of soul searching,” said billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic parent Virgin Group of London at a Thursday panel discussion in downtown. “It was only after meeting all our engineers, meeting the families, talking to our astronauts in waiting— seeing that everybody wanted us to continue – that we decided to push forward.”
The new commercial spaceship carries two pilots and up to six passengers. It is hauled up to 45,000 feet in altitude under the wing of a larger mother ship, named White Knight Two, where it is dropped and then launched into outer space.
Virgin Galactic hasn’t set a launch date for tourist flights to begin. The new spacecraft will stay grounded for an undetermined amount of time to undergo a battery of electrical and mechanical tests.
Virgin Galactic was formed after Branson helped sponsor the first private space flight in 2004, a launch conducted by Scaled Composites of Mojave.