Virgin Galactic postpones space flights again


The British-American space company Virgin Galactic is postponing its timetable again. The company would like to offer short commercial trips into space. Virgin Galactic had to postpone a test flight planned for mid-February to May. This postpones the first start with private astronauts until next year.

The most surprising thing about it is the reaction of shareholders: After the postponement was announced on Thursday evening, the company’s shares crashed by almost twelve percent on Friday. Shifts at Virgin Galactic are not uncommon.

Company founder Richard Branson announced 17 years ago that from 2007 onwards, he would be offering commercial flights that would take you into space for a few minutes. At first, a ticket into space cost $ 200,000, then the price for the short trip rose to $ 250,000. If you book five seats, you get the sixth for free. The spacecraft does not have more passenger seats.

Hundreds of people have already booked or at least paid a deposit. Several start dates have passed unfulfilled. The decades of waiting led to some cancellations, but around 600 applicants remain loyal. The tourist flights are to start from New Mexico’s Spaceport America, where Virgin Galactic rents a terminal.

In October 2019, Virgin Galactic became the first space tourism company to go public. On Thursday the company did its financial results of the first full year since going public. Annual sales are barely worth mentioning at $ 238,000. The operating loss is $ 275 million. Because Virgin Galactic had nearly $ 666 million at the end of the year, there was $ 2.3 million in interest income in 2020. They pushed the net loss down to $ 273 million.


Virgin Galactics Terminal am Spaceport America (Archivaufnahme)

(Picture: Daniel AJ Sokolov)

The test flight, which was postponed from February 13 to May, is a repetition of an unsatisfactory test flight in December: At that time, electromagnetic interference caused a control computer to crash just as the rocket engines were about to ignite. Instead of racing, the pilots had to sail the vehicle back to earth without an engine. The interference has not yet been eliminated, which is why it was not possible to start in February.

Virgin Galactic is planning two more test flights for the summer, then already with passengers: First six employees are to fly, then company founder Richard Branson himself. He is celebrating his 71st birthday in July. At a later date, Virgin Galactic plans to carry members of the Italian Air Force, for which Italy will pay.

If all goes well, paying private astronauts could take a seat in 2022. Virgin Galactic does not promise that they will really get into space. Although there is no clear boundary between atmosphere and space, science has agreed on an imaginary line 100 kilometers above sea level. Virgin Galactic sets the hurdle 20 kilometers lower.

Blue Origins customers will also have to wait longer. The company founded by Jeff Bezos has also postponed the maiden launch of its new rocket called New Glenn until 2022. Mainly for financial reasons, like Spacenews reported.

Last summer, Blue Origin came away empty-handed when it came to awarding a billion-dollar US Space Force contract. In December, the US Air Force canceled a contract. Instead of the originally announced $ 500 million, Blue Origin only made about half of it. Therefore, management is slowing down rocket development a little.

Blue Origins customers who want to use New Glenn for satellite launches will not be surprised by the postponement, the company emphasizes. It still makes sales this year. Blue Origin will supply rocket engines for the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket.


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