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Virgin Galactic's next-gen space plane is one big, shiny mirror

Virgin says the VSS Imagine is basically one big metaphor.

Virgin Galactic’s newest space plane is looking to outshine the company’s predecessors.

📷: Virgin Galactic

Meet: the VSS Imagine...

📷: Virgin Galactic
📷: Virgin Galactic
📷: Virgin Galactic

This shiny new plane (the contemporary of the VSS Unity) is part of a growing fleet from Virgin Galactic that the company hopes will eventually shuttle civilian passengers through sub-orbital space.

📷: Virgin Galactic

According to Virgin Galactic, the plane’s mirrored exterior fulfills both form and function. When the VSS Imagine eventually takes flight, its metallic shell will reflect the environment as it transitions from Earth to space, while also keeping the craft safe from extreme heat.

According to Virgin, the aesthetic is also something of a metaphor...

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“...this dynamic material is naturally appealing to the human eye, reflecting our inherent human fascination with space and the transformative experience of spaceflight.”

Virgin Galactic

Virgin is calling the VSS Imagine part of its SpaceShip III class of spacecraft, which in the company’s words will, “lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.”

In addition to a revamped exterior, Virgin says that the Imagine is also more modular than previous iterations, making regular maintenance and improvements less of an obstacle.

📷: Virgin Galactic

Despite those improvements, Virgin Galactic is still a fairly long way off from bringing its fleet to a production level. For one, the plane, and its predecessor Unity, are still firmly in the testing phase, with Imagine’s initial test flight scheduled for this Summer.

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Testing hasn’t been entirely smooth either. In 2014, Virgin Galactic’s first space plane, the VSS Enterprise suffered a catastrophic accident that ended in the plane breaking apart mid-flight and crash-landing in the Mojave Desert.

📷: Virgin Galactic

A test flight scheduled in December for VSS Unity was also aborted and rescheduled for May after electromagnetic interference that affected some of the plane’s instruments and readings, though Unity has made some major progress including two successful space flights.

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51.4 miles

The distance of Unity's highest test flight.

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Hiccups or no hiccups, Virgin Galactic is still fairly optimistic about the timeline of its space plane project, so if you’re the type to charter a futuristic sci-fi plane and go for a sub-orbital joyride, you may not have to wait too long.

📷: Virgin Galactic

2022

Virgin Galactic hopes to have its first commercial flight next year.

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