Fifteen months after the crash of the first Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo (VSS Enterprise), which claimed the life of one of its two occupants, Richard Branson has not abandoned the idea of commercialising space flights. On 7 January, the company published a picture on their Twitter account of their new vessel in final stages of production, which will be officially rolled-out on 19 February in Mojave, southeastern California.
Following the recommendations of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the teams have had to review their work. Extensive modifications have been made to the rotating tail boom deployment system shown in the photo, released prematurely by the co-pilot and which led to the disintegration of the shuttle at 50,000 feet (15,000 metres), thus necessitating the addition of security systems to prevent a recurrence of the scenario.
It is understood that the craft will probably be christened by the British theoretical physicist, and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, whom the Virgin Galactic Chairman expresses admiration for, and describes as an "undisputed genius who has opened our eyes to the wonders of the universe". In addition, the present day director of research at Cambridge University (Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics), has also received - and he is the only one - a free ticket into space. The other registered 700 passengers have had to pay the sum of $ 250,000.
With this second suborbital spaceplane, the seven test pilots will be able to resume flights, and with them, the soon to be realised dream of one day seeing the blue planet from an altitude of 50 miles (80 kilometres).