Literally simultaneously with the next crash of the SpaceX Starship prototype spacecraft, the company Virgin Galactic announced a new suborbital shuttle SpaceShip 3, dubbed VSS Imagine, to its fleet.
SpaceShip 3 VSS Imagine (VSS – Virgin Space Ship) has the same configuration as the company’s previous ships, SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise, destroyed in the accident on October 31, 2014, and is in service with VSS Unity. The most noticeable difference from previous models is the glider’s mirror coating, which, according to the company, will bring additional aesthetic pleasure to viewers and protect the spaceplane from heating. The second innovation concerns the internal layout – the onboard equipment of the VSS Imagine is made on a modular basis, facilitating the maintenance and repair of the ship.
Virgin Galactic owner, British entrepreneur Richard Branson, planned to start providing space tourism services back in 2009. Due to the difficulties and the accident of the first VSS Enterprise shuttle, the start of commercial operation has been constantly postponed and is now expected in 2022.
In the meantime, Virgin Galactic’s best achievement is the 82.7 km altitude reached during the VSS Unity VP-03 test flight (December 13, 2018), which by American standards is already outer space (the world-accepted boundary of space, the so-called Karman line, lies at an altitude of 100 km).
Recall that the Virgin Galactic shuttles are launched from the Scaled Composites White Knight Two carrier aircraft at an altitude of 13-15 km. They go into independent flight, accelerate and briefly go into space.
The first tests of the VSS Imagine, planning after dropping from a carrier aircraft, will take place in the summer of 2021 at the America Cosmodrome in New Mexico.