Meet VSS Imagine: Virgin Galactic unveils its first SpaceShip III spacecraft

Virgin Galactic now has a fleet.

The company today (March 30) unveiled its second piloted space plane, a shiny silver vehicle called VSS Imagine.

Like Virgin Galactic’s other spacecraft, VSS Unity, VSS Imagine is designed to take people and scientific experiments to and from suborbital space. However, the newcomer is the first of the next-generation SpaceShip III line, which features upgrades that will “enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate,” company representatives wrote in a statement today. 

Video: Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson unveils SpaceShip III

Virgin Galactic unveiled its first SpaceShip III vehicle, VSS Imagine, on March 30, 2021. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

The SpaceShip III design also features a change that, while dramatic, is merely skin-deep — a mirror-like livery that reflects the vehicle’s surroundings, from the ground all the way up to space and back. 

“As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at but represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships,” Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said in a statement today. 

“All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea,” the billionaire entrepreneur added. “Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet.”

VSS Unity is a SpaceShipTwo vehicle. SpaceShipOne, the design pioneer, won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 after making two crewed flights to suborbital space and back within a two-week span.

Unity and Imagine are two-pilot, six-passenger space planes designed to lift off beneath the wings of a carrier aircraft, which drops them at an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). At that point, each spacecraft’s onboard rocket motor lights up, blasting it up to suborbital space.

VSS Imagine has the same basic body plan as Virgin Galactic’s VSS