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Richard Branson: New Virgin SpaceShipTwo due in February

Virgin will push ahead with its commercial space tourism programme according to Virgin Group Leader Richard Branson.

A new version of SpaceShipTwo will be unveiled in February 2016 with test flights set to begin shortly after.

The latest space plane follows its ill-fated predecessor which broke up during a flight test in 2014, killing one pilot and injuring the other.

Whereas the last plane was built by Scaled Composites, Virgin are producing the parts for the new version in-house, a decision that was made before the crash took place last year.

Eventually, the plane will be used as part of Virgin Galactic, a branch of the firm that aims to offer suborbital space trips to tourists using a fleet of space planes.

Questions regarding the future of Virgin Galactic arose in the wake of the crash but the company has been working on the new craft, which is now nearing completion, over the last year.

Speaking to Mashable, Sir Richard Branson said: “We’re very much back on track.”

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The previous SpaceShipTwo disintegrated during a test flight on October 31, 2014.

Carried by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, the space plane broke up shortly after being released for solo flight, killing pilot Michael Alsbury.

The other pilot, Peter Siebold, suffered serious injuries despite managing to parachute to safety.

An investigation into the crash found that the ship’s ‘feathering system’, designed to help the ship approach the ground, was released too early.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told Mashable “We are in a much better place than we might have expected in the period immediately after the accident, and that’s because our team came together, our customers stuck with us, and honestly, we believe that the vehicle itself is sound.”

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