Virgin Galactic has contracted with Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary, to produce two new motherships that will be used in the launches of its VSS Unity spacecraft.
The new generation twin-fuselage four-engine jet bears a close resemblance to the White Knight Two, an aircraft built by Scaled Composites and which has been used in launches by Richard Branson’s company.
The first new mothership should be completed in 2025 and will have improvements in its production process to allow for 200 launches to space per year.
“Our next generation motherships are integral to scaling our operations. They will be faster to produce, easier to maintain and will allow us to fly substantially more missions each year. Supported by the scale and strength of Boeing, Aurora is the ideal manufacturing partner for us as we build our fleet to support 400 flights per year at Spaceport America,” said Virgin Galactic Chief Executive Officer Michael Colglazier.
Aurora plans to manufacture the aircraft at its Columbus, Mississippi and Bridgeport, West Virginia facilities. Final assembly of the motherships will be completed at the Virgin Galactic facility in Mojave, California.
Entry into service within three years will see the new motherships perform the first commercial launches of the new Delta-class spacecraft, which Virgin is developing at the same time.
Virgin Galactic’s tourist space travel launch program is delayed, scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2023. To date, only one launch has been carried out exactly one year ago, in July 2021, with founder Richard Branson on board.