Virgin Galactic has billed itself as a space tourism company, and that reality is no longer a distant dream for virtually everyone.
On Tuesday, Virgin unveiled the first SpaceShip III in its expanding fleet, VSS Imagine, that will capitalize on space tourism by taking passengers to low Earth orbit.
"For us to make the business start to scale, at the places that we're aspiring towards, we need two things: We need many more ships than we have right now and we also need the ships that we bring forward to be built in a way that they're able to be maintained in a way that we can have much quicker [turnaround times between flights] than what we have with Unity," Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier told CNBC.
The expansion of Virgin's fleet is an essential milestone towards allowing everyone's access to space (well, for those who can afford it).
Virgin will commence ground testing, with glide flights of VSS Imagine later this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The breakthrough livery design, finished entirely with a mirror-like material, reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing color and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space. Along with providing thermal protection, this dynamic material is naturally appealing to the human eye, reflecting our inherent human fascination with space and the transformative experience of spaceflight.
Leveraging a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. This third generation of spaceship will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles. -Virgin press release
The introduction of the SpaceShip III class of spaceships is an important milestone in Virgin's multi-year effort that targets flying 400 flights per year.
Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, stated in a company press release:
"Today we unveiled our SpaceShip III class of vehicles, marking the beginning of the Virgin Galactic fleet. VSS Imagine and Inspire are stunning ships that will take our future astronauts on an incredible voyage to space, and their names reflect the aspirational nature of human spaceflight. Congratulations to our dedicated team who worked so brilliantly to achieve this milestone."
Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin, commented:
"Virgin Galactic spaceships are built specifically to deliver a new, transforming perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of space for themselves. As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagineis not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic's growing fleet of spaceships. All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea. Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet."
At the moment, a 90-minute sub-orbital flight costs around $250,000, and more than 600 people have already signed up. Flights are expected to begin in 2022.
Besides low earth orbit travel, Virgin has also unveiled conceptual images of a supersonic commercial jet, sort of like the Concord.