Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo sits in the hangar

Virgin Galactic re-enters space race with SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic, the commercial spaceflight company, is set to re-enter the space race following a deadly accident 16 months ago.

The 2014 accident occurred during a test flight for SpaceShipTwo above California’s Mojave Desert which saw the plane fall apart while re-entering the atmosphere, killing its pilot and delaying the company’s commercial plans.

However, Virgin Galactic is now ready to unveil the updated SpaceShipTwo following further development to ensure the aircraft is safer than its previous iteration.

SpaceShipTwo is a six-passenger, two-pilot winged space plane designed to take thrill-seekers, researchers and commercial customers on five-minute hops into suborbital space, reaching altitudes of about 100km.

"To have three or four people who are fairly entrepreneurial competing with each other means we'll be able to open up space at a fraction of the price that governments have been able to do so in the past," said Virgin CEO Richard Branson in reference to rival ventures such as SpaceX from Tesla founder Elon Musk and Amazon's Blue Origin.

Virgin Galactic is now moving ahead with plans to construct a number of space launchers, including the new passenger vehicle and LauncherOne rockets designed to lift small satellites starting as early as next year.

The Spaceship Company, which is owned by Virgin Galactic, was already manufacturing a second spaceship in a planned fleet of five at the time the accident happened.

But commercial development slowed while the US National Transportation Safety Board conducted an investigation.

It was determined that the co-pilot prematurely released locks that pin the ship's rotating tail section into place.

However, the new spaceship is designed to overcome this problem and includes a pin that prevents the pilots from unlocking the tail section too early, before aerodynamic forces have built up to keep the tail from rotating on its own.

"Ultimately, we want to be able to produce our own point-to-point aircraft," Branson said. "The best way to do that is to be involved with every aspect of the experimentation and the build."

Virgin Galactic is selling rides on SpaceShipTwo for $250,000 (£175,000), with nearly 700 people signing up already.

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