The pride of eastern Kern County seems to look a little different almost every time it appears.
Lately, it is shiny and silvery like a mirror — all the better to reflect its environment, be it terrestrial greens and browns or the speckled blackness of space.
VSS Imagine is a six-passenger rocket ship originating in the minds of aerospace engineers in and around the Tehachapi area. Their design and manufacturing expertise brings international renown to the nearby Mojave Air & Space Port, a neighbor and partner to the Antelope Valley in the annals of space history.
Imagine is the first of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip III class and the latest iteration of a years-old project that will soon shuttle paying passengers to and from suborbital space.
The ship improves on its predecessor in more ways than one. It can carry 50 percent more people and, because of its new, modular design, is far easier to build and maintain. But the most noticeable change is its sleek beauty.
Its reflective surface was part-practical consideration, part-artistic inspiration. Engineers originally wanted to apply a reflective substance on the ship’s exterior as a way of protecting against heat from its rocket motor. But it looked so good, Virgin chose to coat the entire ship with it.
"Our new spaceship's stunning chrome-effect livery is a fascinating example of form, function and thoughtfulness working in perfect harmony," company founder Richard Branson said upon the ship’s unveiling in March 2021.
"We noticed that the spaceship became at one with its natural environment," he said, "by reflecting it whether on the ground, in the air or in space. I can't wait to see Imagine flying."
Imagine is central to the company’s goal of flying 400 flights per year from each of its spaceports. Test flights were expected to begin in 2021 at the company’s New Mexico test center.
As of this writing in early summer, a second ship in the SpaceShip III line was being assembled in Mojave. It’s name: VSS Inspire.