Virgin Galactic has revealed its new ship designed to bring space tourism closer to reality, with renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking naming it Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity.
The new version of the SpaceShipTwo is the first to be manufactured by Virgin Galactic’s own manufacturing arm. The SpaceShipTwo is designed to take two pilots and up to six passengers to suborbital space, on a trip that would include “an air launch followed by a rocket-powered ascent at three and a half times the speed of sound, the silence of space, several minutes of out-of-seat weightlessness and multiple windowed views of our home planet”.
Led by the founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, the company’s space tourism aspirations were delayed in 2014 after a fatal crash during a test flight of the SpaceShipTwo Enterprise. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found human error was the cause of an accident that killed the co-pilot and injured the pilot.
While Hawking was not at the launch, which was held in Mojave, California, he offered his thoughts on the project in a recorded message. He said he has long been a supporter of human space flight and efforts to make it more accessible to people, saying he “would be very proud to fly on this spaceship.”
“We are entering a new space age and I hope this will help to create a new unity”, he said, adding that countries can co-operate in space in “a way we can only envy on Earth”.
Branson said that “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. 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”.
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