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The rocket plane that’s due to become Virgin Galactic’s second commercial suborbital spaceship can now stand on its own two feet — or to be more precise, on its own landing gear.

  • Virgin Galactic Holdings’ manufacturing subsidiary, known as The SpaceShip Company, reached the “Weight on Wheels” milestone when it assembled all of the SpaceShipTwo craft’s major structural elements, deployed the main landing gear and had the structure bear its own weight for the first time at the company’s factory in Mojave, Calif. That’s a key event in the assembly of a vehicle destined to take its place alongside Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity rocket plane.
  • VSS Unity is being prepared for its final flight tests before taking on paying passengers at Spaceport America in New Mexico, presumably later this year. The flight profile calls for VSS Unity — and eventually the second spaceship as well — to be air-launched from a WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane to send up to six passengers at a time beyond the 50-mile space milestone. Two piloted flight tests in December 2018 and February 2019 have already reached those heights, minting new commercial astronauts in the process.
  • The next steps for the next SpaceShipTwo include hooking up the vehicle’s integrated systems and completing the final structural closeouts. When construction is complete, the plane will be put through rounds of ground-based tests and flight tests before joining Virgin Galactic’s fleet in New Mexico. Meanwhile, construction of a third SpaceShipTwo is “making good progress,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in a news release, with structural and system part fabrication more than halfway complete.
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