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Virgin Galactic debuts sleek SpaceShip III design to grow its passenger fleet

Richard Branson's commercial spaceflight company has a new spaceplane it hopes will send hundreds of customers on a suborbital cruise.

VSS Imagine, the first SpaceShip III from Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic on Tuesday revealed its next-generation passenger spaceplane, which it hopes will help the company finally get regular space tourism flights off the ground and eventually ramp up to over 400 such journeys per year.

The company debuted the newest addition to its fleet, the VSS Imagine, in the below video. Imagine is the first of the new class of SpaceShip III vehicles, the successor to the SpaceshipTwo design Virgin Galactic has been testing over the past few years in preparation for first flying Branson on a suborbital flight, followed by the company's initial paying customers.

Virgin also announced it's already working on VSS Inspire, the next SpaceShip III in its fleet. The first test glide flights of VSS Imagine will take place sometime this summer from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.

The Spaceship III design is marked by an almost totally reflective exterior, which will mirror both the changing environments the craft passes through and heat from the sun to help keep things a little more comfortable for future civilian astronauts.

Virgin says SpaceShip III has a modular design that affords streamlined maintenance and turnaround time.

The new model will also allow for quicker production of more ships to build the fleet and start to scale up to meet the goal of hundreds of flights per year, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier explains. "We need many more ships than we have right now," he told CNBC.

Now playing: Watch this: VSS Imagine: Virgin Galactic's newest spaceship

While Imagine awaits its first flight, SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity has another test flight planned for May.

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