A new version of the SpaceShipTwo will be rolling out Friday, taking Virgin Galactic a step further into making space tourism a reality. The spacecraft will be unveiled at the Mojave Air & Space Port where it was assembled.
This unveiling, however, doesn't mean that SpaceShipTwo will be shooting for the skies right away. Rather, it marks the start of full-vehicle tests on the spacecraft, all to be carried out on the ground.
"We already know these things work individually, but one can't simply assume they will all work together. We'll do so quickly, but we won't cut corners," said Virgin Galactic in an update.
Once full-vehicle tests are done, captive carry flights will be carried out, followed by glide testing. Captive carry flights will have the SpaceShipTwo firmly attached to the WhiteKnightTwo. When it moves to glide testing, the spacecraft will be flying freely on its own for the first time more than 45,000 feet in the air.
If the glide flight tests are satisfactory, Virgin Galactic will move on to rocket-powered test flights, with each mission designed to assess important aspects, such as how SpaceShipTwo behaves upon breaking the sound barrier when it ascends and descends as well as meeting increasing altitudes. After flying the spacecraft to 50 miles, SpaceShipTwo pilots will meet requirements to be officially called as astronauts.
Virgin Galactic did not provide a projection stating when it would start bringing tourists to space.
"When we are confident we can safely carry our customers to space, we will start doing so," said the company, adding that its list of early-paying customers already exceeds that of the total number of people who have been to space.
Unlike other spacecraft that launch from the ground, SpaceShipTwo is designed to be attached to the WhiteKnightTwo, a special jet aircraft, until an altitude of 45,000 feet is reached. It will glide through the skies for a few minutes after it is released before its pilots ignite the rocket engine that will bring it to space. When it reaches its suborbital trajectory, the SpaceShipTwo will start falling back to Earth, gliding until it lands on a runway.