SpaceShip III
ManufacturerVirgin Galactic

SpaceShip III (SS3, also with Roman numeral III; formerly SpaceShipThree) is an upcoming class of spaceplanes by Virgin Galactic to follow SpaceShipTwo. It was first teased on the Virgin Galactic Twitter account on 25 February 2021 announcing the rollout of the first SpaceShip III plane on 30 March 2021.[1]

Concept evolution

The purpose originally proposed for SpaceShipThree in 2005 was for commercial orbital spaceflight, as part of a program called "Tier 2" by Burt Rutan founder of Scaled Composites.[2][3]

By 2008, Scaled Composites had reduced those plans and articulated a conceptual design that would be a point-to-point vehicle traveling outside the atmosphere.[4] By 2008, the SpaceShipThree concept was to be used for transportation through point-to-point suborbital spaceflight with the spacecraft providing, for example, a two-hour trip on the Kangaroo Route (from London to Sydney or Melbourne).[4]

Scaled was sold to Northrop Grumman in 2007,[5] and references to further work on a conceptual Scaled SS3 ended at some point afterwards from Scaled. Scaled was realigned by Northrop Grumman in 2015 as a research unit.[6] Virgin Galactic acquired full control of The Spaceship Company in 2012, the manufacturer of SS2.[7] The technology was built upon the base technology owned by Mojave Aerospace Ventures of Paul Allen, originally licensed in 2004.[8][9] As Allen died in 2018,[10] subsequent space activities of the Vulcan Group went inactive.

By 2016, Richard Branson was still planning to have a point-to-point sub-orbital spaceliner follow-up to SpaceShipTwo, for Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company.[11]

Revised concept

The current SpaceShip III is designed to provide just a few minutes of weightlessness and views for space tourists for Virgin Galactic, and is a production version of SpaceShipTwo,[12] with improved maintenance and flight rate performance and does not have point to point transportation capabilities as previously envisioned in 2016.[11]

In early 2021, Virgin Galactic teased an upcoming vehicle on their Twitter account with the name shown in stylized font as "SPACESHIP 3".[1]


The first Spaceship III, VSS Imagine, was rolled out on 30 March 2021. On that occasion, it was indicated there was ground testing to be done before glide test flights could commence, no earlier than the summer of 2021.[12]

List of vehicles

Name Unveil date In-service date Out-of-service date Notes
VSS Imagine 2021 TBA TBA First SSIII [13]
VSS Inspire TBA TBA TBA Second announced SSIII [13]

See also


  1. ^ a b Virgin Galactic [@VirginGalactic] (February 25, 2021). "The Future of the Fleet. Rollout, March 30th" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  2. ^ "SpaceShipThree poised to follow if SS2 succeeds". Flight International. FlightGlobal. 23 August 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  3. ^ Leonard David (11 August 2006). "Burt Rutan on Civilian Spaceflight, Breakthroughs, and Inside SpaceShipTwo".
  4. ^ a b SpaceShipThree revealed?, FlightGlobal Hyperbola, Rob Coppinger, 29 Feb 2008
  5. ^ "Northrop buys the rest of Scaled Composites". Albuquerque Business First. Business Journals. 27 August 2007.
  6. ^ James Drew (6 August 2015). "Northrop realigns Scaled Composites under advanced research unit". Flight Global.
  7. ^ "Virgin Galactic Acquires Full Ownership of The Spaceship Company". Business Wire. 5 October 2012.
  8. ^ "Exhibit 10.27: Spacecraft Technology License Agreement". U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. EX-10.27.
  9. ^ "Virgin Group Sign Deal with Paul G. Allen's Mojave Aerospace". SpaceRef. 27 September 2004.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Steve Lohr (15 October 2018). "Paul G. Allen, Microsoft's Co-Founder, Is Dead at 65". New York Times.
  11. ^ a b Irene Klotz (19 February 2016). "Branson's Virgin Galactic moves to return to space race". Reuters.
  12. ^ a b "Meet VSS Imagine: Virgin Galactic unveils its first SpaceShip III spacecraft". 30 March 2021.
  13. ^ a b Darrell Etherington (30 March 2021). "Virgin Galactic debuts its first third-generation spaceship, 'VSS Imagine'". TechCrunch.