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A small step for Virgin Galactic, a giant leap for SpaceShipTwo

19/09/2019
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Virgin Galactic have announced the completion of a major step in the assembly of their latest spaceship.

This is the third version of the SpaceShipTwo design being built by Virgin Galactic
(Image via Virgin Galactic)

This will be the third SpaceShipTwo model to be built, after the VSS Enterprise (which was destroyed during testing) and the VSS Unity - which is nearing the end of an extensive test campaign. The intention is to create a fleet of spacecraft, with this third model entering service after Unity.

The latest milestone for the SpaceShipTwo was the mating of the fuselage and cabin to the completed wing assembly. They also mated two tail booms to the spaceship’s rear feather flap assembly.

SpaceShipTwo has a modular build, with the cabin, fuselage, wing and feather assemblies constructed in parallel. The approach grants easier access for systems integration earlier in the build process, as well as an overall shorter assembly duration.

Mating the two assemblies required precise measurements of the fuselage/cabin and wing, conducted with laser trackers by the metrology team to ensure they would come together as designed.

For the feather assembly, inboard skins had to be bonded to the boom internal structures and then rotated vertical and mounted on the feather flap assembly. During re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, this feather flap will move the spaceship’s booms into a stable “feathered” position.

“Our passionate and talented team has made great progress on the next SpaceShipTwo,” said Enrico Palermo, President of the Spaceship Company - the design and manufacturing arm of Virgin Galactic. 

“Seeing VSS Unity adjacent to the assembly of the next vehicle as well as the cabin of our third spaceship makes it very clear that we are building a fleet of remarkable spaceplanes for commercial service.”

The modular construction means that different elements can be built at the same time, with the cabin and fuselage then being connected to the completed wing assembly
(Image via Virgin Galactic)

SpaceShipTwo vehicles are designed for six passengers. They will initially be carried to an altitude of 50,000 feet by a plane known as WhiteKnightTwo, then dropped. SpaceShipTwo’s onboard rocket motor will then kick in, shooting the craft into suborbital space. 

Passengers will have a view of the Earth’s curvature against the blackness of space, as they experience a few minutes of weightlessness. 600 tickets for the experience have been bought so far, each at a cost of $250,000.

The latest milestone brings Virgin Galactic one step closer to having their fleet in operation. It’s thought that the third SpaceShipTwo will be ready to begin test flights next year.

“It is exciting to imagine these two vehicles operating shoulder-to-shoulder from Spaceport America in New Mexico,” said George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company.

We have a strong block design which we believe we can replicate to build the remainder of the fleet, continuing our march toward commercial service.”

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A small step for Virgin Galactic, a giant leap for SpaceShipTwo - Time to read 3 min
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