Virgin Galactic is aiming to resume test flights within six months providing it can finish building a replacement spaceship for the craft that broke apart over the California desert last week.
The shell and tail section of the new craft is sitting inside the company’s manufacturing facility in Mojave, California.
It’s beginning to look like a spaceship, but Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides says there’s much work to be done, from relatively simple things such as installing windows to the more complex fitting of flight controls and other wiring.
The ship, called SpaceShipTwo Serial No. 2, will replace one that was destroyed after its feathering system that controls descent deployed prematurely and aerodynamic forces ripped it apart, killing the co-pilot and seriously injuring the pilot.
“There’s sort of a therapeutic benefit to folks to be able to put their energies into constructive work,” Whitesides said.
He said the company will be able to continue flying its mother ship – the much larger jet-powered plane that launches the rocket ship at higher altitudes – while US federal investigators look into the cause of the deadly crash.
It’s possible that test flights for the next spaceship could begin within six months, before the investigation is scheduled to conclude, Whitesides said.
Virgin Galactic has an experimental permit from the Federal Aviation Administration to test its spacecraft.
Just last month, the company had received approval from the agency to resume rocket-powered flights.
Speculation continues about how far the accident will push back the day when Virgin Galactic’s paying customers can routinely rocket from a $US219 million ($A237 million) spaceport in the New Mexico desert toward the edge of space for a fleeting feeling of weightlessness and a breathtaking view.
“There was no question it was a tragic setback, but it’s one from which we can recover,” he said.
Virgin Galactic envisions flights with six passengers climbing more than 99 kilometres above Earth.
Seats sell for $US250,000 ($A270,490), and the company says it has booked passengers including Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Russell Brand.
A few more passengers signed on this week, Whitesides said.