Virgin Galactic Will Resume Flight Tests Of Its Commercial Spacecraft Next Month

Image courtesy of Virgin Galactic

Two years after a fatal accident that killed one person, Virgin Galactic is preparing to resume testing of its rocket plane designed to take tourists into space.

SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s newest version of its commercial spacecraft, is designed to have a crew of two and carry up to six passengers on a sub-orbital flight that reaches the edge of space, at an altitude of more than 62 miles.

The company is slated to finish ground tests in August before moving on to testing the ship in the skies while attached to an aircraft, according to Jonathan Firth, vice president at Virgin Galactic, Bloomberg reports.

Virgin Galactic has 700 bookings at $250,000 a ticket, Firth said, but there’s no date yet for the first commercial flight, however, and Firth says it all boils down to how testing goes. Ticket prices could fall if competitors — including, perhaps, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin — get their spaceships up and running by then as well.

“We’ve thrown out so many dates in the past that we weren’t able to keep to, we’re being a bit more conservative this time,” he said.

The first SpaceShipTwo broke apart in October 2014 during its fourth-rocket powered flight, when the co-pilot prematurely activated a system used to slow down and stabilize the craft as it re-enters the atmosphere. The co-pilot was killed, but the pilot parachuted to safety.

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that a company that was working on the rocket with Virgin Galactic and was responsible for its test program should have had systems to compensate for human error. Virgin Galactic has now assumed full responsibility to complete the test program, the company said in February.

“Our team’s job is to plan out not just the obvious tests but also the strange and inventive ones, to conduct those tests, and to use the data from those tests to re-examine everything about our vehicle to ensure we can take the next step forward,” Virgin Galactic said at the time.