WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic revealed its newest suborbital spaceplane March 30, a car that appears much like its present SpaceShipTwo however incorporates important structural enhancements.
The corporate unveiled the primary of what it calls the “Spaceship III” line of autos, referred to as VSS Think about. The car, constructed at Virgin Galactic’s facility in Mojave, California, is prepared for floor checks there, with a flight take a look at program at Spaceport America in New Mexico slated to start this summer season.
The car appears much like the corporate’s SpaceShipTwo car, VSS Unity, aside from a brand new livery. The car is wrapped in a silvery movie that the corporate mentioned in a press release offers thermal safety in addition to being “naturally interesting to the human eye, reflecting our inherent human fascination with house and the transformative expertise of spaceflight.”
“To the skin eye, it doesn’t look any completely different,” Mike Moses, president of house missions and security at Virgin Galactic, mentioned in an interview. “It truly is the third evolution of the construct. This one was constructed a lot, a lot otherwise.”
Moses mentioned probably the most important change is within the construction of the car. Engineers took the design of SpaceShipTwo and adjusted the construction to make it “extra environment friendly and extra elegant,” which reduces the burden of the car and in addition makes it simpler to examine and keep.
Virgin Galactic additionally switched to a extra modular method for constructing Spaceship III. With SpaceShipTwo, the corporate constructed up the car in a single cradle, beginning with the wings after which including the cabin and different elements. “It made it serial and really a lot restricted the quantity of people that may work on the ship at anyone time,” he mentioned.
With Spaceship III, completely different elements of the car may be inbuilt parallel after which assembled into the ultimate car. “From that standpoint, you get a a lot sooner construct and a way more environment friendly construct,” he mentioned. That method additionally improves upkeep, he added.
These design enhancements lowered the burden of the car, which can enhance its payload capability. SpaceShipTwo was designed to hold six individuals along with its two pilots, however due to added weight, together with extra instrumentation wanted for its flight take a look at program, VSS Unity can carry solely 4 individuals. Moses mentioned Spaceship III will have the ability to carry six individuals.
The flight take a look at program for Spaceship III will start with its captive carry flight on the WhiteKnightTwo plane, or “mothership,” from Mojave to Spaceport America. “The mothership lets us have a flying wind tunnel, so we’ll have the ability to take a look at all of the flight management techniques and primary aerodynamics,” he mentioned. “We are able to go up excessive and chilly soak, and see how techniques reply to temperature modifications.”
As soon as at Spaceport America, VSS Think about will undergo a collection of glide and powered take a look at flights much like earlier autos. Moses mentioned the corporate plans a “handful” of glide flights, specific to check the vibration or “flutter” of the construction and examine it to SpaceShipTwo, adopted by rocket-powered flights.
“We’re mainly pondering of a fairly brief program” of take a look at flights, he mentioned. “Actually not the identical as what Unity went by means of.”
VSS Unity has been grounded since an aborted powered take a look at flight in December that was blamed on electromagnetic inference affecting the car’s laptop system. In a Feb. 25 earnings name, the corporate mentioned it was modifying the flight management laptop to take away the interference, pushing again the subsequent take a look at flight to Could.
That work goes nicely, Moses mentioned. “We’ve examined them out on the bench. They’re working actually good displaying nice promise. We’re putting in them within the ship proper now and testing them,” he mentioned of the revised electronics. “We nonetheless seem like we’re on monitor for a Could flight with Unity.” He declined, although, to be extra particular about when in Could that flight will happen.
A second Spaceship III, referred to as VSS Encourage, is being inbuilt Mojave. Moses mentioned the corporate continues to be learning whether or not to construct a 3rd Spaceship III or transfer forward to a next-generation “Delta-class” car the corporate introduced in its February earnings name.
“We’re going to make one other huge step change” with the Delta class, he mentioned, with extra enhancements to streamline manufacturing to scale back the price and time wanted to construct the car. Work on the Delta class is simply beginning, he famous. “We need to be certain we make investments sufficient into the engineering and the issue to ensure we see a step enhance.”
Virgin Galactic can also be starting research of extra motherships to hitch the one WhiteKnightTwo, VMS Eve. The brand new motherships will look much like WhiteKnightTwo however incorporate design enhancements.
The corporate is taking a look at potential trade partnerships, notably for constructing extra plane. “The one benefit on the mothership is that it’s far more airplane-like and so there’s capability within the aerospace trade to assist us there,” he mentioned. “So, we’re going to take a look at partnerships there to assist us construct these ships sooner and extra effectively for us.”