Virgin Galactic Delta Class spaceplane as in the First Quarter 2024 Financial Report presentation. Credits: Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic Opens New Delta Class System Integration Facility

The new system integration facility allows Virgin Galactic to expedite the development of its new Delta Class spaceplane, which is scheduled to fly in 2026

In a press release published on May 6, 2024, Virgin Galactic announced opening a system integration facility in Southern California to speed up developing and constructing its new Delta Class spaceplane. The site hosts an iron bird ground-testing platform, commonly used in the aeronautic industry to test the vehicle subsystems during the design phase to identify and solve technical issues early in its development.

“With this approach, Virgin Galactic is moving from a prototype to a production model of developing spaceships – shaving years off the development timeline we saw with VSS Unity.”

— Mike Moses, President of Virgin Galactic Spaceline


Iron Bird, a test rig also for spaceplanes

Iron birds are commonly used in aviation to collect data on aircraft subsystems in the early stage of their development, without building a prototype to test their functionalities. Avionics, pneumatics, hydraulics, and other components can be tested individually or integrated to collect information on their behavior when working together.

Airbus - Iron Bird of the A350 XWB. Credits: Airbus.
Airbus – Iron Bird of the A350 XWB. Credits: Airbus

Sometimes, this ground test platform is equipped with a flight deck, allowing pilots to familiarize themselves with the controls and expand the scope of the tests, including the human factor. After aircraft certification, the availability of an iron bird can facilitate the troubleshooting of ongoing issues and testing of proposed modifications before installation on the vehicles.

Virgin Galactic will also use a static test article to run stress tests on the structural components and verify their integrity. The data gathered will support the finalization of the spaceplane design and the determination of its structure load limits.


The Delta Class spaceplane is on its way to its 2026 debut

As stated in the company’s First Quarter 2024 Financial Report, the Delta Class assembly facility in Phoenix, Arizona, will be ready to operate in the summer of 2024. This opening is aligned with the current plan of flying the Delta Class spaceplane in 2025 for test purposes.

Virgin Galactic Delta Spaceship facility in Phoenix, Arizona. Credits: Virgin Galactic.
Delta Spaceship facility in Phoenix, Arizona. Credits: Virgin Galactic

The company is putting all its efforts into the new Delta Class spaceplane project since they decided to stop VSS Unity flights with the next Galactic 07, planned for June 2024. The commercial flights will stop with Galactic 07 and should resume in 2026 with the first Delta Class vehicle availability.


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Giancarlo Albertinazzi

Giancarlo Albertinazzi

Space Ambassador, Terranaut, Future Spacepolitan, Writer of Becoming Spacepolitans Blog

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