MOJAVE — Even as Virgin Galactic continues to push toward starting commercial passenger service with the first SpaceShipTwo vehicle built in-house, the second vehicle is taking shape in a hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
The company announced another production milestone on Monday, as the main oxidizer tank was installed into the fuselage.
The tank not only holds the liquid oxidizer that allows the craft’s hybrid rocket motor to burn a solid fuel to propel it to suborbital space, it forms part of the vehicle’s structure by connecting the front and rear sections of the rocket plane.
Assembly of the second Space ShipTwo vehicle is proceeding alongside the finishing touches to the first vehicle, dubbed Unity, in the company’s FAITH hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port. When complete, Unity will move to Spaceport America in New Mexico for final flight testing before beginning commercial flight operations there.
A third vehicle is also under production at the same Mojave facility, where The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing arm, will remain, building the fleet of spaceplanes and WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
As these vehicles are built, they will undergo initial flight testing at Mojave before being shipped to New Mexico or other spaceports for commercial operations.
The Spaceship Company employs about 500 people at the Mojave site, with an additional 100 contractors, he said. That number is expected to remain stable.
The spacecraft are assembled in a modular fashion, with the cabin, fuselage, wing and feather assemblies built in parallel.
The spaceflight company, which has been based in Mojave during development of its systems, announced in May, it was ready to begin the long-planned transition of its flight operations from Mojave to New Mexico.
Virgin Galactic and the New Mexico state government announced an agreement for the spaceline to operate from the then-proposed spaceport in 2005. What became Spaceport America, near Las Cruces, N.M., is the first purpose-built spaceport in the nation, as opposed to others that have, or still serve, aviation operations, as well.