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Virgin Galactic set to unveil new spaceship

CNBC CNBC 19/02/2016 Anmar Frangoul | Special to

© Provided by CNBC Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is gearing up to unveil its latest spaceship and embark on a new phase of test flights following a fatal crash nearly two years ago, and get its plan to launch the world's first "commercial human spaceflight program" back on track. 

"We're all feeling very good, we've got the 700 wonderful engineers here who've been working day and night for the last 15 months to get the new spaceship finished, she looks beautiful but I can't tell you too much about her until this evening," Branson told U.K. TV show Good Morning Britain on Friday morning.

"We're going to have a wonderful unveiling and we've got some wonderful surprises later on today, so we're nearly back on track and hopefully it will be seen as an historic day in the years to come," he added. The new spaceship will be unveiled at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California.

In 2014, disaster struck the program when a Virgin Galactic spaceship crashed during a test flight, with wreckage falling over the Mojave Desert. Co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed, but pilot Peter Siebold survived.

In a press statement Thursday, Virgin Galactic said the emphasis was now firmly on testing, stating that it had commenced rigorous series of trials.

"Starting at the level of individual pieces and components, we poked, prodded, stretched, squeezed, bent, and twisted everything used to build these vehicles," the company said.

The testing was not completed, however, "because it will never be complete." The project said that after its unveiling the new vehicle would remain on terra firma for a while yet, with full vehicle tests of electrical systems and "moving parts" set to take place.

Customers would be taken into space only when Virgin Galactic was "confident we can safely carry" them to space.

Looking forward, Branson was positive about the potential of the program. "People expect companies like Virgin to push the barriers forward," he said on Good Morning Britain. "Through space we can transform life back here on earth in so many positive different ways, and that we plan to do," he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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