Meet 'VSS Imagine': Virgin Galactic's Next-Gen Commercial Spacecraft

The spacecraft's highly-reflective exterior constantly changes colors, mirroring its surroundings from Earth to space.
Chris Young
The VSS ImagineVirgin Galactic

Commercial spaceflight company Virgin Galactic unveiled today, March 30, its next-generation spacecraft, the 'VSS Imagine'.

VSS Imagine will commence ground testing, with glide flight tests planned for this summer from the company's Spaceport America complex in New Mexico.

The new vehicle will form part of the company's new fleet of next-gen spacecraft called Spaceship III, with the company also planning to begin manufacturing the next spacecraft, 'VSS Inspire'.

Meet 'VSS Imagine': Virgin Galactic's Next-Gen Commercial Spacecraft
The mirror-like exterior of the new VSS Unity reflects "our inherent human fascination with space." Source: Virgin Galactic

VSS Imagine will be the space tourism company's third spacecraft, as Virgin Galactic continues final development testing on VSS Unity, with a spaceflight test expected in May. Its first model, the VSS Enterprise was destroyed in a fatal test flight in 2014.

Laying the foundation for future Virgin Galactic spacecraft

The VSS Imagine is finished with a mirror-like material that offers thermal protection. By mirroring the colors of Earth and space the exterior also reflects "our inherent human fascination with space and the transformative experience of spaceflight," Virgin Galactic explains.

The company says the new spacecraft will "lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles" — a modular design makes it easier and less costly to incrementally improve the vehicle.

As Virgin Galactic aims to eventually fly 400 flights a year, it will need several different models to carry out different types of flights.

In an interview with CNBC, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said, "we need many more ships than we have right now and we also need the ships that [are] able to be maintained in a way that we can have much quicker [turnaround times between flights]."

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He also added that the new VSS Imagine "has been designed in a way that’s taken the learnings [the company has] had from all the flight testing on Unity."

Virgin Galactic will now have its eyes firmly set on the VSS Unity's next test flight set for May 2021.