Virgin Galactic’s next passenger spaceship has reached a major construction milestone, the company said.
All major structural elements have been assembled and the rocket plane is standing on its own landing gear at Mojave Air & Space Port in California, Virgin Galactic said.
Photos of the achievement show the craft in a hangar next to the Virgin Space Ship Unity spacecraft, which has been to space twice during test flights in preparation for commercial operations based at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.
“We now have two spaceships which are structurally complete, with our third making good progress,” chief executive George Whitesides said.
We've reached the Weight on Wheels milestone in the build of our next spaceship considerably faster than it took to get to this stage with our first spaceship, VSS Unity, which is currently in flight test. Our third spaceship is making good progress too! https://t.co/xwzQgeUfoT pic.twitter.com/6RWbyqiScU
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) January 8, 2020
“These spaceships are destined to provide thousands of private astronauts with a truly transformative experience by performing regular trips to space.”
Continuing work on the new ship includes connecting flight control and other integrated systems.
The company has not set a date for the start of commercial operations but has said it anticipates doing so in 2020.
It has moved more than 130 employees to New Mexico and late last year inaugurated a programme to prepare its first customers for the experience.
The winged rocket ships are designed to carry paying tourists to the lower fringes of space to experience weightlessness, view the Earth far below and glide to a landing on a runway.
The craft will also carry experiments that require several minutes of microgravity.
Founded by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, the company is now formally named Virgin Galactic Holdings and went public on the New York Stock Exchange in October.
The fleet is being manufactured by The Spaceship Company, a wholly owned subsidiary.