Virgin Galactic's second commercial spaceship is almost ready to begin flight testing. Photo: Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic has reached the “Weight on Wheels” milestone in the build of its second commercial spaceship, the company announced Tuesday. All major structural elements of the vehicle were assembled, and the vehicle deployed its main landing gear and carried its own weight for the first time, a sign of progress for Virgin Galactic’s space vehicle fleet by subsidiary The Spaceship Company.
VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic’s first spaceship, is currently undergoing flight testing as the company attempts to become the world’s first commercial space line and introduce a new generation of commercial space flight vehicles. During a December 2018 test flight, VSS Unity became the first crewed flight vehicle to reach space, soaring to 271,268 feet.
The team will now work to connect the vehicle’s integrated systems, including the flight control systems from fuselage to tail booms, as well as completing the final structural closeouts. As this work is completed, the spaceship will be positioned in the hangar for the start of integrated vehicle ground testing, a precursor to the start of its flight test program.
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said during a panel discussion at the AFA Cyber and Space Conference in September that a future goal in addition to suborbital flights includes an eye toward enabling transoceanic flights, partly through space.
According to Virgin Galactic, the Weight on Wheels milestone for second spaceship occurred “considerably faster” than the same milestone for VSS Unity, which the company attributes to a “a more efficient, modular assembly process, as well as experience curve benefits.” A third vehicle has already entered structural and system part fabrication assembly and is now over 50% complete.
“Flight on Wheels is an important milestone because it gets us closer to having an operational fleet of spaceships. This is a critical milestone in the build of any airplane or any spaceship because it signifies major structural assembly is complete. It allows … us to start to prepare the vehicle for its ground testing,” Spaceship Company President Enrico Palermo said in a video.