On February 19, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic revealed its all-carbon composite SpaceShipTwo model rocket plane – the VSS Unity. The model, which comes from Scaled Composites, is the first vehicle to be manufactured by The Spaceship Co. (Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing arm) and the second ever SpaceShipTwo model ever built. The first, VSS Enterprise, was destroyed in a crash in late October 2014.
The SpaceShipTwo is based on the award-winning SpaceShipOne designed by Scaled Composites founder and ACMA Hall of Fame member Burt Rutan. The rocket plane can take a crew of two pilots and up to six passengers to space. It starts its flight attached to a mothership, the WhiteKnightTwo. The space plane then gets carried to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters) by WhiteKnightTwo, and then dropped.
At that point, SpaceShipTwo’s onboard rocket motor fires up, blasting the vehicle up to a minimum of 62 miles above Earth’s surface—the internationally accepted boundary where outer space begins. Passengers will get to see the curvature of Earth against the blackness of space and experience a few minutes of weightlessness, according to Virgin Galactic. SpaceShipTwo will then glide back down for a runway landing, touching down about 2.5 hours after WhiteKnightTwo carried it.
The VSS Unity will soon begin testing in California and New Mexico. According to an October 2015 article from Space News, the VSS Unity will undergo a test regimen similar to VSS Enterprise.
“This type of testing isn’t complete yet—because it will never be complete,” said Virgin Galactic in a recent blog post. “As a manufacturing organization, we will always do this sort of testing on parts. But we are now entering a phase where instead of just testing pieces and subsystems, we test the vehicle as a whole.”
The Spaceship Co. has already started work on the next SpaceShipTwo after the VSS Unity.
To see the testing process for the rocket plane, watch the video below: