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Sunday, 28 February 2021

Virgin Galactic postpones its first space tourism until 2022 to allow additional 'technical checks' - but the news sent its stocks plummeting by nearly $10 a share

  • Virgin Galactic said  the next test flight of the VSS Unity will not happen until May
  •  The firm's CEO predicts  commercial flights will now start in early 2022
  • That is about a year past the initial forecast of the first quarter of 2021
  • The company will unveil its next craft, the VirginSpaceShipThree, on March 30
  • Virgin reported a net loss of $273 million in 2020, its first as a public companyVirgin Galactic is pushing back plans for space tourism until at least 2022.

    In an earnings call this week, the company announced its next rocket-powered test of the Virgin SpaceShip Unity won't happen until May.

    A February flight window is being allowed to close to allow for additional 'technical checks,' pushing the timeline for a commercial flight a year past its original early 2021 target. News of the delay caused Virgin Galactic's stock to plunge from $45.04 to $36.69 Thursday, mostly during after-hours trading. 

    Virgin also announced it would unveil the SpaceShipThree on March 30, before it begins four glide test flights and four powered flights this summer.

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    Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier announced the next test flight of the VSS Unity (pictured) will be in May. The company was passing on a February flight window to continue 'technical checks.'

    Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier announced the next test flight of the VSS Unity (pictured) will be in May. The company was passing on a February flight window to continue 'technical checks.'

    Stock in Virgin Galactic fell from $45.04 to $36.69, mostly in after-hours trading following the release of the earnings reports, according to Parabolic Arc.

    Virgin reported a net loss of $273 million last year, it's first as a publicly traded company, including a $74 million loss in the final quarter of 2020.On the call, CEO Michael Colglazier revealed the May flight will be a 'do-over' of the aborted December 2020 mission, which was canceled when the flight computer lost its connection to the motor.

    It will carry two pilots and a load of NASA microgravity experiments. 

    Virgin tweeted an image of its SpaceShipThree on Thursday, indicating it will fully unveil the craft  on March 30. This summer, it will undergo four glide test flights and four powered flights

    Virgin tweeted an image of its SpaceShipThree on Thursday, indicating it will fully unveil the craft  on March 30. This summer, it will undergo four glide test flights and four powered flights 

    This summer a pair of test missions will be conducted with employee 'passengers,' including one with Virgin CEO Richard Branson, and then a 'revenue-generating' mission to train Italian Air Force pilots some time in late summer or fall.

    Unity and its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, will then spend four months getting maintenance and enhancements.

    After a series of test flights this spring and summer Unity and its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, (pictured) will then spend four months getting maintenance and enhancements. The company says it expects flights with paying passengers will start in early 2022

    After a series of test flights this spring and summer Unity and its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, (pictured) will then spend four months getting maintenance and enhancements. The company says it expects flights with paying passengers will start in early 2022

    'At the conclusion of this period, we expect that VSS Unity will begin flying private astronauts and SpaceShipThree will be in a position to complete its flight testing, which we expect to be in early '22,' Colglazier said, according to Investor's Business Daily.

    That's a year later than the initial forecast, which was for the first quarter of 2021.

    In a tweet on Thursday, Virgin also announced the public will get its first look at SpaceShipThree on March 30, before the craft undergo a series of glide and rocket-powered test flights this summer. 

    Founded by Richard Branson (pictured), Virgin Galactic had a tough 2020, its first year as a public company.  Earning reports indicate a net loss of $273 million, including a $74 million loss in the final quarter

    Founded by Richard Branson (pictured), Virgin Galactic had a tough 2020, its first year as a public company.  Earning reports indicate a net loss of $273 million, including a $74 million loss in the final quarter

    Richard Branson's aerospace corporation is competing with Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin to be the first to send tourists into space.

    Passage on the VSS Unity cost $250,000, and there are already more than 600 reservations, reportedly including from Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber.

    Travel time on the six-passenger craft is an estimated 90 minutes, including several minutes of weightlessness.

    Virgin Galactic previously projected tourist flights would start in June 2020, but modifications, errors and the pandemic played havoc with that timeline.

    During Unity's second suborbital flight test in February 2019, the craft's horizontal stabilizer suffered severe damage.

    In December, a mission was aborted just an hour after takeoff when the flight computer lost its connection to the motor.

    That flight, the first in two years, already faced delays due to the pandemic and poor weather conditions. 

    HOW DOES RICHARD BRANSON'S VIRGIN GALACTIC CONDUCT ITS SPACE FLIGHTS?

    Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch.

    Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo.

    WhiteKnightTwo is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres).

    The first WhiteKnightTwo, VMS Eve - which Virgin Galactic has used on all of its test flights - was rolled-out in 2008 and has a high-altitude, heavy payload capacity.

    Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch. Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Once SpaceShipTwo has propelled itself into space its engines shut off for a period of weightlessness before returning home

    Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch. Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Once SpaceShipTwo has propelled itself into space its engines shut off for a period of weightlessness before returning home

    Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space.

    Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity - the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights - though the firm is expected to build more in future.

    Once released from WhiteKnightTwo, SpaceShipTwo's rocket motor engages 'within seconds', according to Virgin Galactic.

    The craft will then fly approximately three and a half times the speed of sound (2,600mph/4,300kph) into suborbital space, reaching up to 360,890ft (110,000 metres) above the Earth's surface.

    WhiteKnightTwo (artist's impression) is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres)

    WhiteKnightTwo (artist's impression) is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres)

    This altitude is defined as beyond the edge of outer space by Nasa.

    After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, the pilots will shut it down, and passengers can then take off their seatbelts to experience weightlessness for several minutes.

    The pilots will manoeuvre the spaceship to give the best possible views of Earth and space while raising the vehicle's wings to its 'feathered' re-entry configuration, which decelerates the craft and stabilises its descent.

    As gravity pulls the spaceship back towards the Earth's upper atmosphere, astronauts will return to their seats ready to return to our planet.

    At around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres), after re-entry, the pilot will return the spaceship's wings to their normal configuration, ready to glide back to Earth for a smooth runway landing. 

    Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured) - the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights - though the firm is expected to produce more in future

    Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured) - the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights - though the firm is expected to produce more in future

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