The world’s newest passenger spaceship is being rolled out publicly for the first time Friday in theCalifornia desert. Virgin Galactic is revealing its new SpaceShipTwo at the Mojave Air and Space Port prior to beginning compressive testing on the ground. The craft takes the place of the company’s first ship, also named SpaceShipTwo, which was destroyed Oct. 31, 2014, when a co-pilot conducting tests improperly activated the craft’s descent mechanism as it flew above the Earth, killing him and injuring the pilot. Unlike traditional spacecraft, the Virgin Galactic craft descend using a system much like that of a badminton shuttlecock.
The first SpaceShipTwo made 55 test flights before it was destroyed, and Virgin Galactic officials say each of its flights provided important lessons. SpaceShipTwo will be subject to extensive on-the-ground testing before it’s carried aloft, unpowered, for further testing. If all goes well, it will eventually be tested under its own rocket power.
Company officials declined to offer a schedule for when the first test flights will start for the company founded by British entrepreneur Richard Branson. "Managing that transition from fiction to reality requires clever ideas, lots of hard work, and above all else, lots and lots of testing,” the company said in a statement Thursday. "No one is more eager than us to complete those milestones — nor to share this journey, with all its challenges and triumphs, with a global public that craves inspiring and ambitious stories to balance out the daily barrage of the 24-hour news cycle. But this isn’t a race. We have shown we are committed to being thorough in our testing: It is the right thing to do and it is essential to our ultimate success."
Virgin Galactic is selling space in the craft for tourist flights to space. Among those rumored to have already signed up for the $250,000 flights: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Paris Hilton and Stephen Hawking. Virgin Galactic offered refunds to passengers following the crash and the company says it has more paying customers than all the humans who have ever been to space.
Virgin Galactic is one of several privately owned companies racing to commercialize new technology for spaceflight. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has focused on delivering cargo to the International Space Station with its Dragon capsule, while Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is also planning to offer the “astronaut experience” to paying customers. "As a thousand-year-old saying goes, there is no easy way from the Earth to the stars,” Virgin Galactic officials said. "But finally, there is a way, and through steady testing, we will find it."