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Virgin Galactic Rolls out New Space Tourism Rocket Plane
   2016-02-21 07:24:43    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Guan Chao

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson Galactic rolls out a new version of its SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket as it prepares to return to flight testing for the first time since a 2014 accident destroyed the original, killed one of its pilots and set back the nascent industry. [Photo: CFP]

The commercial spaceflight company Virgin Galactic has rolled out a new version of its space tourism rocket plane.

The move comes nearly 16 months after a fatal accident destroyed its sister ship during a test flight in California's Mojave Desert.

CRI's Fei Fei has more.

 

The rollout of the gleaming craft marks Virgin Galactic's return to the race to become the world's first major private space tourism company.

The new passenger spacecraft is expected to take thrill-seekers, researchers and commercial customers on short hops into space.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, says the new vehicle means the dream of private space tourism can now be made accessible.

"Together, we can make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamt of before now. And by doing that, we can truly bring positive change to life on Earth. This spaceship is the embodiment of that goal."

The ship is named Virgin Spaceship Unity at the suggestion of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, to whom Richard Branson promised a free ride into space.

From outward appearances, the spacecraft is nearly identical to the one lost in 2014, which killed one of its pilots and set back the nascent industry.

The unveiling ceremony has set the stage for the new ship's first round of test flights, which will likely incrementally test the new ship at higher speeds and altitudes.

The first spaceship had not yet traveled beyond the atmosphere.

Branson says the priority for his team is to make sure that safety of the new flights comes first.

"The most important thing is that, after the unveiling today, that we spend month after month with our test pilots testing, testing the craft until we're absolutely sure that we're ready to safely send people into space."

The new ship is the size of a small corporate jet.

It is designed to be flown by a crew of two and carry up to six passengers on a high-speed suborbital flight to the fringes of space.

At an altitude above 62 miles, passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and a view out the window of Earth set against the blackness of space.

Doug Shane, president of The Spaceship Company, says the craft will bring a fantastic experience to the passengers.

"The spaceship to cabin has been designed to give you lots of room. You have big windows, you're very strategically located in proximity to those windows, so you have a great view. And then the vision is that you'll be able to unstrap and float free during the weightless portion of the flight, and be able to really experience weightlessness and the whole space experience. And it should be pretty cool."

Nearly 700 people have signed up for rides, which cost 250-thousand US dollars each.

Virgin Galactic is among a handful of companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, Stratolaunch Systems and Boeing, planning to fly people into space on a commercial basis.

For CRI, this is Fei Fei.

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