MOJAVE, Calif. (KRQE) – Space tourists who plan to someday ride Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered space liners are one small step closer to being launched from New Mexico’s Spaceport America. At a factory in California, a second SpaceShipTwo, replacing the first craft that crashed last year, is now standing on its own for the first time.
This past week, the airframe of the second SpaceShipTwo was lowered from its factory support fixture and parked on its own landing gear.
Although the new rocket ship will still not begin flight testing until next year, builders say the milestone of achieving “weight on wheels” gave the team a big morale boost.
“Although there’s still much work to be done, this was a powerful and emotional moment for our team to reflect on how far we have come,” Virgin Galactic said at its Facebook site.
The new rocket ship is being built by the Spaceship Company, a subsidiary of Virgin Galactic. The company says starting several months ago they began working on the second SpaceShipTwo “in three shifts, spanning days, nights, weekends.”
Factory managers say they hope to begin ground testing of the new space liner later this year, “occasionally moving back and forth off the fixture as our crews continue installing new items and testing and verifying every piece of the craft.”
One factor is the wait for results of the National Transportation Safety Board investigation into last year’s crash.
Co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed when the first SpaceShipTwo broke up a few seconds after the rocket engine was ignited.
It’s expected the NTSB will recommend changes in the design and operating procedures.
Virgin Galactic says it “is committed to making any modifications or improvements that we feel are necessary to improve the safety of the vehicle.”
While construction of a third SpaceShipTwo will begin this year, flight testing of the second SpaceShipTwo is not expected to begin until 2016 at their Mojave, California facility.
It’s now estimated commercial flights with tourists at Spaceport America in New Mexico could begin in 2017.