SpaceShipTwo gets ready for testing.
Every day brings us all closer to the moment travelers become astronauts—that is, if billionaire entrepreneurs like Virgin CEO Richard Branson have their way. Today, Virgin Galactic will unveil SpaceShipTwo, its new shuttle designed to carry customers into space.
There’s still time to save up for the trip’s $250,000 price tag, though. As Virgin Galactic explains in a statement, SpaceShipTwo will first embark on a rigorous testing period and “will remain on the ground for a while after her unveiling.” While the company has already tested the various parts that make up the spaceship, now is the time to examine the shuttle as a whole—and the company is quick to reassure potential travelers that it’s not going to cut any corners.
Virgin Galactic’s first spaceship fatally crashed in late 2014, killing the pilot and putting a hold on the company’s ambitions. As Wired reported in July, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the crash occurred due to a pilot error, a hazard that the aerospace company that designed the spaceship hadn’t taken into consideration. Virgin Galactic acknowledged lessons learned in its statement this week, writing, “Because our new vehicle is so similar to its predecessor, we benefit from incredibly useful data from 55 successful test flights as well as the brutal but important lessons from one tragic flight test accident.”
While Virgin Galactic stopped to rebuild its program after the crash, The Daily Mail points out that a couple of Branson’s fellow billionaire businessmen have carried on with their own such initiatives in the meantime. Tesla founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space programs have both conducted test launches; according to the article, SpaceX is expected to begin taking astronauts to the International Space Station next year.
But Virgin Galactic notes in its statement, “this isn’t a race.” It lays out its plan for testing, which begins on the ground, then moves forward to captive carry flights with its mother ship WhiteKnightTwo, glide testing, and finally rocket-powered flights aiming higher and higher each time. “When we are confident we can safely carry out customers to space, we will start doing so,” Virgin Galactic writes. They also noted that the number of customers have paid for their seats aboard SpaceShipTwo “already number more than the total number of humans who have ever been to space.”
So, on second thought, you might want to drop that $250,000 now. There’s already a prototype design for your new spacesuit anyway.