Virgin Galactic unveiled a new model of its SpaceShip Two spaceplane on 19 February. The private space tourism firm's second spacecraft model has been bestowed the name VSS Unity.
The VSS Unity has been designed to eventually replace the space tourism company's first model, the VSS Enterprise, which crashed during a test flight in 2014. The incident cost the life of a pilot, while severely injuring the co-pilot.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said that the VSS Untity was the outcome of around 700 engineers working tirelessly, throughout the "day and night" for over a year. Hinting at possible improvements prior to the unveiling event, Branson said, "We've got some wonderful surprises later on today", Good Morning Britain reported.
Virgin Galactic showcased its new spacecraft at its Mojave Spaceport in California, in ceremonial style. The VSS Unity appears almost identical to its predecessor. However, the company's engineers have made major improvements and changes in the new model, which is also slated to take off, orbit and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere, as planned before with the VSS Enterprise.
The VSS Unity has enhanced auto-pilot features. The automotive functions were specifically designed so as to provide pilots with additional support, in the event of a malfunction. The first SpaceShip Two model's unfortunate crash is believed to have occurred in part, due to pilot error. In efforts to ensure increased security, engineers have boosted the new spacecraft's automotive functions.
Another change in the new SpaceShip Two model involves fuel. The VSS Unity's engine will use a different fuel source, which has rubber-like consistency, to ensure that engine combustion is optimised. However, this type of fuel has also been known to cause the company's spacecraft engines some issues in the past, the Verge reported.
Virgin Galactic has not yet tested its newest spacecraft. The company's vice president of projects Will Pomerantz has said that the VSS Unity has been scheduled for its first round of test flights later in the year.