Space

Virgin Galactic unveils new SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity

Virgin Galactic unveils new Sp...
The new spacecraft replaces the previous SpaceShipTwo, which was lost in a test flight accident
The new spacecraft replaces the previous SpaceShipTwo, which was lost in a test flight accident
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The new spacecraft replaces the previous SpaceShipTwo, which was lost in a test flight accident
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The new spacecraft replaces the previous SpaceShipTwo, which was lost in a test flight accident
VSS Unity was named by Professor Stephen Hawking
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VSS Unity was named by Professor Stephen Hawking
VSS Unity being toward into the naming ceremony
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VSS Unity being toward into the naming ceremony
Cockpit of VSS Unity
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Cockpit of VSS Unity
Sir Richard Branson and VSS Unity
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Sir Richard Branson and VSS Unity
Sir Richard's granddaughter christened the spacecraft
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Sir Richard's granddaughter christened the spacecraft
VSS Unity was unveiled in front of an invited audience
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VSS Unity was unveiled in front of an invited audience
VSS Unity will now undergo extensive ground tests
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VSS Unity will now undergo extensive ground tests

Over a year after a fatal test flight accident, Virgin Galactic is back as CEO Sir Richard Branson today unveiled the new spacecraft that will replace the ill-fated SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Enterprise. Sporting a new silver and white livery and pulled by a Land Rover Autobiography, the new vehicle was wheeled out before an invited audience and named VSS Unity by Professor Stephen Hawking via a recorded message.

Attending the ceremony at Virgin Galactic's spaceport in Mojave California were Virgin Galactic's Founder Future Astronauts, stakeholders, partners, Sir Richard, his mother Eve, his son Sam, and his one-year old granddaughter Eva Deia, who did the actual christening of the suborbital tourist craft using milk in lieu of the more traditional champagne.

In naming the craft, Professor Hawking added that "If I am able to go and if Richard will still take me, I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship," and "We are entering a new space age, and I hope this will help to create a new unity." Video congratulations were also presented from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.

VSS Unity will now undergo extensive ground tests
VSS Unity will now undergo extensive ground tests

According to Virgin Galactic, the replacement SpaceShipTwo is the first vehicle to be manufactured by Virgin Galactic's wholly-owned manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company. The Unity will now undergo extensive ground tests before it begins captive carry tests by its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, at an unspecified date. These will be followed by unpowered glide tests, then powered tests at increasing speeds and altitudes before the first attempt at sending the craft into space on a suborbital trajectory.

"Together, we can make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamt of before now, and by doing so can bring positive change to life on Earth," says Sir Richard. "Our beautiful new spaceship, VSS Unity, is the embodiment of that goal also great testament to what can be achieved when true teamwork, great skill and deep pride are combined with a common purpose."

At about 10:07 PDT on October 31, 2014, VSS Enterprise (SS2-001) broke up in midair 13 seconds after being dropped from the WhiteKnightTwo mothership, resulting in the death of the co-pilot Michael Alsbury and severe injury to the pilot, Peter Siebold, who was thrown clear as the craft disintegrated. It was the 55th test flight and fourth powered flight of the suborbital spacecraft built by Scaled Composites, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Northrop Grumman Corporation, for Virgin Galactic.

Sir Richard's granddaughter christened the spacecraft
Sir Richard's granddaughter christened the spacecraft

The spacecraft uses a hybrid rocket system to propel it on a suborbital trajectory into outer space. Key to this design is a feather system for reentry, which uses a pair of tail boom structures that pivot upright, so the spacecraft spirals down into the Earth's atmosphere like a maple seed. Subsequent investigation by the US FAA concluded that the accident was due to an error by Alsbury, who deployed the tail boom 14 seconds too early.

Source: Virgin Galactic

7 comments
Derek Howe
Private spaceflight has being on the cusp of reality for a decade...it's time to shatter that glass ceiling.
MidwestB
So the original ship broke up 13 seconds after being launched, but the feathering system was deployed 14 seconds too early? Seems unlikely it would be deployed before being launched, but maybe that's just me.
Techtwit
Is that not what's called "being pro-active"? Nice one, MidwestB, I missed it on the first read.
habakak
Sounds like this was a management issue. Or engineering perhaps? Is this not something they could have prevented the pilot from doing? The easiest way out is always to blame the pilot.
Stephen N Russell
Urge a VSS: "Challenger, Enterprise, Intrepid, New Vision, Roddenberry, Asimov, New World, Discovery, Adventure Galley" for future shuttles alone.
Grunchy
"Christening" is when you sacrifice the champagne (or milk) so that the gods give it good luck. I take it they never thought to Christen the original SpaceShipTwo, so good to see they finally learned their lesson.
Riaanh
@MidwestB, not quite, if you think about it.... He should have pressed the button 13s+14s = 27s after launch, but pressed it after 13s.