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The Next SpaceShipTwo Takes Shape in Virgin Galactic Hangar

Image: SpaceShipTwo 2.0
Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo model, known as N202VG, is shown under assembly in a hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Nov. 4. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

Even as the investigation into the fatal breakup of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane continues in Mojave, California, the next SpaceShipTwo is more than halfway complete in a Mojave hangar — and is expected to start going through tests on the ground and in the air next year.

Virgin Galactic's manufacturing subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, has been working on the plane for two and a half years. It's variously known as SpaceShipTwo Tail No. 2, or N202VG — and it's part of Virgin Galactic plan to have a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo rocket planes and two WhiteKnightTwo carrier planes.

The first SpaceShipTwo disintegrated on Friday during a rocket-powered test flight, killing one pilot and injuring the other. The second plane, which is considered 65 percent assembled and 90 percent structurally complete, is taking shape at the Mojave Air and Space Port in The Spaceship Company's Final Assembly, Integration and Test Flight Hangar, or FAITH.

Virgin Galactic could begin testing the plane before the National Transportation Safety Board issues its final report about last week's accident, but SpaceShipTwo 2.0 is likely to take advantage of any recommendations that come out of the NTSB's report.

The craft that broke up last week was known as VSS Enterprise — a name that gave a nod to "Virgin Spaceship" as well as to the starship of the Star Trek saga. The second SpaceShipTwo has not yet been named, but Reuters reports that Virgin Galactic employees have taken to calling it "Hope."