The first SpaceShip III vehicle, VSS Imagine.
Virgo Galactic The newest spacecraft in its fleet, VSS Imagine, was unveiled on Tuesday. The spaceship is the first of its next-generation SpaceShip III vehicle class.
With the launch of VSS Imagine, the space tourism company can begin testing a second spacecraft as Virgin Galactic continues through final development tests for VSS Unity. The next space flight test is expected in May.
“In order for business to scale in the places we aspire to, we need two things: we need a lot more ships than we do now, and we also need the ships that we are advancing to be built a way like them can be serviced in a way that we can have much faster [turnaround times between flights] than what we have with Unity, “Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, told CNBC.
VSS Imagine is the third spaceship the company has built. The VSS Enterprise was destroyed in a fatal test flight accident in 2014 while the VSS Unity made two space flights. last in February 2019. Colglazier emphasized that VSS Imagine “was designed to take into account the lessons learned from all flight tests with Unity”.
“It allows us to access things in the right way. We know what things need to be routinely addressed so that we can give people easy access,” said Colglazier.
Virgin Galactic’s shares fell 1.4% in premarket trading from a previous closing price of $ 29.21 per share.
The SpaceShip III class
Colglazier said the VSS Imagine is the first of the company’s SpaceShip III generation, adding that it is already “getting the manufacturing team to get to work” on the next spacecraft to be called the VSS Inspire. The biggest improvement between the SpaceShip II and SpaceShip III classes is turnaround time, both in terms of how each spacecraft is manufactured and the amount of maintenance required between flights, Colgalzier said.
SpaceShip III was developed using a more “modular” approach than the previous generation, as Colglazier noted that VSS Unity was “basically built in-place” which is “just a slower process”.
“The SpaceShip III class is made up of components – assemblies are built in parallel,” he said.
Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses defined the “modular” advances of VSS Imagine as a breakdown of production into sections: “The fuselage, the cabin, the wing body, the flat planar shape of the wings, and then the tail booms – all became separate built. “”
The company hasn’t yet figured out how many SpaceShip III vehicles it plans to build, but Coglazier said more spacecraft will be needed to meet the company’s backlog. Virgin Galactic also plans to fully reopen ticket sales after the flight test with the founder Sir Richard Branson, expected this summer.
While SpaceShip III offers a number of enhancements, Colglazier said it was still “a pretty handcrafted piece,” and manufacturing doesn’t yet have what “I call production-level tools”.
Virgin Galactic has created a new in-house program called Delta Class that the company is designing with the goal of “building spaceships in parallel”. While the Delta-Class will be functionally identical to the SpaceShip III vehicles, Colglazier said the Deltas “are where I think we are at the forefront of manufacturing”.
In addition, Virgin Galactic is reviewing potential partners “to effectively accelerate our next mothership program,” said Colglazier.
Virgin Galactic has a carrier aircraft or “mothership” called the VMS Eve. Colglazier said last month the company will need to build more to meet its target flight rates. He believes it is likely that Virgin Galactic could find “some great partnerships” between aerospace companies to build the next carrier aircraft, as opposed to the company which is “building its own factory to assemble mother ships”.
Work will continue towards the May test flight
Virgin Galactic pilots head to the company’s SpaceShipTwo Unity spacecraft, which is attached to the Eve jet carrier aircraft.
Moses said Virgin Galactic was addressing the problem of electromagnetic interference delayed the second attempt of his space flight test in December to May.
“You can never completely eliminate EMI – it’s an artifact of aerospace electrical systems – but we could really reduce the source a bit, and that’s what the team was doing,” said Moses.
Electromagnetic interference was the main cause of the flight abandonment in December. Moses said Virgin Galactic made changes to some of its “electronic components” as well as the sensors that those components then read and use to tell what is happening “in VSS Unity.
“We implemented these two changes and tested them on site. Now we’re installing them on the ship,” said Moses. “We will be doing a full end-to-end review of the ship. Assuming these results are good, we still seem on track for this May target.”
Colglazier’s view of the space SPAC boom
Virgin Galactic went public through a deal With Chamath Palihapitiya Special Purpose Acquisition Company in 2019. Numerous companies followed recently. In the past six months, seven space companies announced SPAC deals: Redwire Space, Missile laboratory, Spire Global, Black sky, Astra, AST & Science, and Momentus.
Colglazier, who joined Virgin Galactic after the IPO, believes two factors play a role.
“The US government [has opened] Entering the aerospace markets and giving commercial companies the ability to bring levels of innovation that probably didn’t exist before, “Colglazier said. The second is that as much innovation is coming your way as you see. The last couple of years are starting to see technology getting to where innovation and just some kind of entrepreneurial focus are finding ever more opportunities. “
He believes that these factors “combine with a good capital market environment” to “create a growth industry here that did not exist a few years ago”.
“Space is back in the consumer’s mind,” added Colglazier.