Virgin Galactic to Unveil Next SpaceShipTwo in February

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By Keith Wagstaff

Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo will be revealed to the world next month — and Stephen Hawking is invited to the ceremony.

The previous SpaceShipTwo crashed in 2014 after its "feathering" system was deployed prematurely, leaving one pilot dead and the other injured. The accident hasn't stopped Virgin Galactic from building rocket planes, which could one day ferry tourists into space.

SpaceShipTwo will make its public debut on February 19 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, Virgin Galactic confirmed to NBC News. The guest of honor? Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who has agreed to attend the unveiling, provided he is healthy enough.

Hawking took a zero-gravity flight in 2007, despite suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) since he was 21 years old. Recently, he has been forced to cancel public appearances due to health concerns.

Hawking is the only person guaranteed a free ticket on Virgin Galactic's first flight, and could venture into space if "his health permits it."

"We all wish Stephen the very best as he continues his recovery from recent health issues," Virgin Galactic said. "We are very honoured that Stephen has agreed to help us unveil our new spaceship in February if he is feeling well enough."

NBCUniversal has established a multi-platform relationship with Virgin Galactic to track the development of SpaceShipTwo.