MOJAVE, Calif. — Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic unveiled its new space vehicle on Friday, 15 months after the predecessor version of SpaceShipTwo broke up during a test flight over the Mojave Desert, killing one of the two test pilots.
The rollout of the new SpaceShipTwo — which is named VSS UNITY — marked a turning of the corner for Branson and his space enterprise. The months since the accident of Oct. 31, 2014 have seen commercial space competitors like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin make great strides in their own races toward the stars.
“We’ve incorporated a lot of the changes that the original engineers and technicians had figured out on the first ship,” Matt Kampner, project engineer on SpaceShipTwo, told NBC News before the rollout. “That’s a challenge, making changes on something that already worked. You know, you think you’re improving it, that’s your intent, but you have to really study the change to make sure that you are indeed improving it.”
The National Transportation Safety Board released findings in July of last year that indicated that the 2014 crash occurred after the co-pilot too early in the flight unlocked a system that was meant to slow down the vehicle.
The accident hampered Virgin Galactic's progress, but the men and women who get the company off the ground say they remain as committed as ever to their main mission — taking the next step in humanity’s journey to space.
“I feel very privileged to be part of this group who gets to focus on advancing humanity as a whole,” Gabe Williams, Virgin Galactic lead engineer, told NBC News. “What we’re doing is opening up space for everybody, and that’s just so exciting to be part of.”
NBCUniversal has established a multi-platform relationship with Virgin Galactic to track the development of SpaceShipTwo.