Virgin Galactic Delays Start of Commercial Service to 2023, Loses $93 Million

VSS Unity in flight on July 11, 2021. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s quarterly reports have fallen into a familiar pattern since the company went public 2.5 years ago. Optimistic talk about past and future progress is mixed in with a large net loss and another delay in the start of commercial service that was originally forecast to begin back in 2007.

Richard Branson’s space tourism company didn’t fail to disappoint on Thursday. The net loss for Q1 2022 was $93 million, which was higher than Q4 2021 net loss of $81 million but less than the $130 million loss for the first quarter of 2021.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit Announces Renaming of Its National Security Arm and Introduction of New Board Members

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB), a leading satellite launch provider, announced today the renaming of its national security arm. Formerly “VOX Space,” Virgin Orbit’s U.S.-based, wholly owned subsidiary engaged with national security organizations in the U.S. and its allies will now do so under the name “Virgin Orbit National Systems.”

(more…)

Richard Branson Gets His Astronaut Wings, Aims to Eliminate Asterisk* Next Time

Unity 22 crew: Michael Masucci, Colin Bennett, Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla, David Mackay and Beth Moses at the 37th Space Symposium. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Billionaire aims to go higher and faster next time
  • Virgin Galactic still can’t get SpaceShipTwo all the way up (to Karman line)
  • FAA throws in the towel on deciding who is and who isn’t an astronaut

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Earlier this month, Richard Branson and two Virgin Galactic employees received commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity flight test they took part in last July. The trio was the last group to receive the wings — FAA ended the program last year — and the honors came with a pretty big asterisk.

(more…)

Former Top Federal Regulator to Fly on Unregulated Spaceship

Jeff Bezos pins Blue Origin astronaut wings on actor William Shatner. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first three passenger flights of Blue Origin’s New Shepard have been long on symbolism. On the first one, Jeff Bezos invited Wally Funk, who in 1960 was one of 13 women who underwent the same medical checks as the Original Seven Mercury astronauts. NASA wasn’t accepting female pilots at the time, so Funk had to wait 51 years to reach space.

New Shepard’s second flight included starship Capt. James T. Kirk, or more precisely, the actor who played the “Star Trek” captain, William Shatner. The third flight had Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of America’s first astronaut to fly to space, who launched aboard a vehicle named after her father, Alan.

(more…)

New Mexico Seeks to Attract Virgin Galactic’s Manufacturing Facility to Spaceport America

A majority of Virgin Galactic’s future Astronauts gather with Sir Richard Branson (center) for a group photo at Virgin Galactic FAITH hangar in Mojave, CA September 25, 2013. Behind the group is the WhiteKnightTwo mated with SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Updated on March 5 at 8:34 a.m. PST with additional information about space companies located in the Los Angeles area and the benefits of industry clusters to employers and employees.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The state of New Mexico has proposed that Virgin Galactic establish a production facility at Spaceport America, which is where the company plans to begin flying tourists on suborbital space rides later this year. KRQE TV reports:

The New Mexico Economic Development Department says they have a proposal to bring Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing to the Spaceport. Right now, the manufacturing location is in the Mojave desert. Spaceport America has five permanent tenants that are conducting a variety of experiments; including one company that uses laser technology to help land on the moon.

(more…)

Richard Branson & Chamath Palihapitiya Sued Over Alleged Insider Trading of Virgin Galactic Stock

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and former chairman Chamath Palihapitiya are facing a shareholder lawsuit claiming they profited from selling shares while the stock was artificially inflated and known flaws in the company’s space tourism vehicles were hidden. Yahoo News reports:

The investor lawsuit, filed February 21 by Virgin Galactic shareholder Thomas Spiteri, seeks damages from the space travel company’s directors and others in management.

Palihapitiya took advantage of his role as company chairman to sell 10 million shares for $315 million on “inside information” before he abruptly left his role last month, the derivative action alleges.

Virgin Galactic founder Branson sold 16 million shares for about $458 million while the stock was “artificially inflated,” the complaint said.

Palihapitiya’s Social Capital Hedosophia, a blank check company that was already traded on the New York Stock Exchange, took Virgin Galactic through a merger in October 2019. He served as Virgin Galactic’s chairman before abruptly resigning on Feb. 18, four days before the company’s quarterly earnings call.

Virgin Galactic Opens Ticket Sales and Rebrands, Waves Bye Bye to Richard Branson’s Eye Eye

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic opened ticket sales to the general public and rebranded itself today a week ahead of what promises to be another dismal quarterly earnings report. The company most recently reported to having 700 reservations for suborbital spaceflights, with plans to reach 1,000 later this year. Space tourism flights are currently scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2022.

Virgin Galactic’s battered stock, which opened at $8.93, soared by more than 29 percent to $10.50 on the New York Stock Exchange. The company is scheduled to report earnings (actually a loss) for the fourth quarter of 2021 on Feb. 22.

(more…)

Mojave Air & Space Port Adds Rutan Brothers to its Name

Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan pose for a photo in front of the SpaceShip2 resting under the Mothership WhiteKnight2 inside a hangar in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

MOJAVE, Calif. — The Mojave Air and Space Port has renamed itself to honor aviation and space pioneers Burt and Dick Rutan. The facility in California’s High Desert is now known as the Mojave Air and Space Port at Rutan Field.

“Whereas, Burt Rutan and Dick Rutan have made significant contributions in experimental aviation design, fabrication, and flight test at Mojave Air and Space Port, with their combined contributions resulting in first flights of over sixty unique experimental aircraft, including one twenty-year period with an average of a first flight of a new manned research type every eight and a half months,” the Board of Directors said in a resolution passed last month.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit Adds Distinguished Spaceflight Engineering Executive Amid Operations Scale Up

LONG BEACH, Calif., JANUARY 28, 2022 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Leading US-based space launch and space services company Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) announced today the addition of industry leader Dr. Candace Givens as its new Vice President of Engineering. Dr. Givens joins the Virgin Orbit team as the company scales up its flight rate to accommodate high demand seen from commercial customers, the national security community, the international community, and NASA.

Dr. Givens joins a team that has uniquely demonstrated the ability to bring new technology to spaceflight and move it into regular launch operations—Having now completed their third commercial spaceflight and having deployed 26 satellites during the first 12 months of operations. In her role as Vice President of Engineering Dr. Givens will work closely with Virgin Orbit chief engineer and senior vice president of technology Kevin Sagis who has been instrumental in developing, proving and establishing the air-launched LauncherOne System. 

(more…)

NASA Selects Virgin Orbit to Provide Future Launch Services Through VADR Contract

LONG BEACH, Calif., January 27, 2022 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) announced today its selection by NASA’s Launch Services Program to provide launch services for the agency’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated Rideshare (VADR) missions. The fixed-price indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract will leverage commercial satellite launch practices, and together with the flexibility afforded by Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system enables more efficient launch timelines, mission-tailored orbits, and competitive costs.

“This contract award is a great step forward for commercial space,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit. “The VADR contract vehicle now provides a platform for NASA to more easily contract for flights on our LauncherOne service. That means it will be easier than ever for us to work with NASA to provide targeted and economic access to space, maximizing the science gains from their small satellite missions and enabling ever greater technological innovation.”

(more…)

Chamath Palihapitiya Comments on Chinese Human Rights Abuses Embarrasses Virgin Galactic

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Well, this isn’t good for Virgin Galactic or the Virgin brand it represents. Gizmodo reports:

Chamath Palihapitiya, the chairman of Virgin Galactic and CEO of Social Capital, doesn’t care about the plight of Uyghurs—a Muslim-majority ethnic group that’s faced persecution by the Chinese government. Numerous reports out of China have documented how the Uyghurs have been subject to forced abortionssystematic rapetorture, and internment in concentration camps. But Palihapitiya says “nobody” cares about the Uyghurs, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Palihapitiya, who’s reportedly worth roughly $1.2 billion and is a co-owner of the [Golden State] Warriors basketball team, made the comments Saturday on his podcast, titled All In, which he co-hosts with tech industry veteran Jason Calacanis.

“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs,” Palihapitiya said. “You bring it up because you really care, and I think it’s nice that you care. The rest of us don’t care.”

(more…)

Virgin Orbit Launches 7 Payloads into Orbit

Cosmic Girl after takeoff from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA, January 13, 2022 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB), the responsive launch and space solutions company, confirmed it successfully deployed into orbit all 7 customer satellites onboard its LauncherOne rocket during today’s Above the Clouds mission.

(more…)

Space Tourism Money Pit: Virgin Galactic Stock Plunges Again as Company Plans to Issue Up to $500 Million in Debt

Credit: Google Finance

Parabolic Arc Context Backgrounder

  • $425 million in senior notes due in 2027; initial purchasers have option to buy up to $75 million in notes
  • First issuing of debt; company previously raised money by issuing hundreds of millions in additional stock after going public on Oct. 28, 2019
  • Announcement came as sister company, Virgin Orbit, prepared for a satellite launch later today
  • Stock price well below its NYSE debut price of $12.79 and peak of $62.80
  • Company has lost hundreds of millions of dollars since going public as schedule delays lengthened
  • Space tourism revenue flights not expected until third quarter 2022
  • Plan before going public was to begin tourism flights in June 2020
  • Founder Richard Branson has extracted about $1.4 billion from initial deal to go public and subsequent sales of stock
  • Branson has reduced ownership stake from more than 50 percent in October 2019 to 11.9 percent today

Virgin Galactic’s press release announcing the plan to issue debt follows.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit to Launch Satellites From California on Wednesday

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit will attempt to make it three in a row by launching a group of commercial and government satellites off the California coast on Wednesday afternoon.

Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl carrier plane is scheduled to take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California between 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. PST (21:00–23:30 GMT). The aircraft will drop the LauncherOne booster over the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands approximately one hour after takeoff.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit Stock Sinks in NASDAQ Debut

Credit: Google Finance

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit’s debut on the NASDAQ stock exchange wasn’t exactly stellar.

The stock opened at $9.18 when trading began on Thursday, Dec. 30. It reached a low of $8.04 when trading ended the following day befrore rising to $8.30 in after-hours trading.

Richard Branson’s launch company went public after merging with NextGen Acquisition Corp. II, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that was already traded on NASDAQ. The merger allowed Virgin Orbit to go public on the exchange under its own name.

NextGen stock was trading at $9.68 when the merger deal was announced on Aug. 23.

A SPAC is a “blank check company” that is essentially an investment vehicle that is traded on the stock exchange. SPACs typically have two years to find a private company with which to merge and take public. If they don’t, then investors can received their money back. Investors also have the option to sell their shares back to the company if they don’t like the deal, which is what happened with the NextGen-Virgin Orbit merger.

As a result, Virgin Orbit will received only $228 million of the $483 million in growth capital it had expected when the deal was announced in August. The Virgin Group and other investors had to put more money into the merger to meet the $100 million cash requirement for the deal.