On October 31, 2014, Virgin Galactic’s race to be the first company to take largely-untrained tourists to space took a calamitous detour when its SpaceShipTwo exploded in mid-air and then crashed in the Mojave Desert during a test flight, killing the copilot and seriously injuring the pilot.
Although initial concerns centered on the craft’s design, it was ultimately determined that the disaster was likely pilot error. Though tragic, that fact may have helped Richard Branson’s company avoid extra years of delays.
Now, just 16 months later, Virgin Galactic is ready to pick up where it left off. Today, the company will unveil the second SpaceShipTwo at a ceremony in Mojave, California expected to bring VIPs including famed scientist Stephen Hawking and others.
Virgin Galactic knows a lot of people want it to not only show off the new spacecraft, but to start taking passengers aloft. Not quite, the company says. First, more testing. Lots and lots of testing.
"If you are expecting SpaceShipTwo to blast off and head straight to space on the day we unveil her, let us disillusion you now: this will be a ground-based celebration," the company wrote in a blog post yesterday. "Indeed, our new vehicle will remain on the ground for a while after her unveiling, as we run her through full-vehicle tests of her electrical systems and all of her moving parts. We already know these things work individually, but one can’t simply assume they will all work together—that must be tested and verified. We’ll do so quickly, but we won’t cut corners."
Still, there’s a new spaceship, and for the romantic types whose gaze is always to the stars, that’s big news.
Stay with us throughout the day as we bring you live updates and photos from the unveiling in Mojave.