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.

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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.

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Report: UAE Working with Blue Origin to Establish Spaceport, Ends Agreement with Virgin Galactic

New Shepard takes off with six passengers on Dec. 11, 2021. (Credit: Blue Origin website)

At the end of a long article about the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) efforts to develop a virbrant space industry, The National revealed this bit of news from Ibrahim Al Qasim, deputy director general of the UAE Space Agency.

Mr Al Qasim revealed to The National that the agreement that was signed in 2019 with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to bring space tourism flights to Al Ain Airport is no longer in effect, without explaining further.

Instead, the country is now working with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin to set up spaceports.

He said discussions with the company, which has already flown 20 people on its suborbital flights, are under way.

Any agreement to fly Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle would be dependent upon a technology safeguards agreement between the UAE and the United States. An agreement with New Zealand allows Rocket Lab to launch Electron rockets from the company’s spaceport on Mahia Peninsula. Brazil has signed an agreement that will allow U.S. companies to launch from the Alcantara Space Center.

The UAE state of Abu Dhabi has been a major investor in Virgin Galactic, which plans to fly suborbital tourism flights aboard SpaceShipTwo. In 2009, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Aabar Investments put in $280 million for a 31.7 percent share of Richard Branson’s space company. Aabar later invested an additional $100 million for a 38.7 percent share of Virgin Galactic.

The additional $100 million investment was intended to help finance the development of a small satellite booster that would be air launched from WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft when it wasn’t used for SpaceShipTwo suborbital flights. A new company, Virgin Orbit, split off from Virgin Galactic. The company dumped plans to use WhiteKnightTwo; instead, it uses a larger booster, LauncherOne, that is dropped from a modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl.

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.

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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.

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Virgin Galactic Announces $81 Million Net Loss for Q4, $353 Million Loss for 2021

  • Commercial Service Remains on Track for Q4 2022
  • Current Fleet Enhancement Program On Schedule to be Completed in Q3 2022
  • Opened Ticket Sales to the General Public

TUSTIN, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR)– Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or the “Company”) today announced its financial results for the fourth quarter and full year ended December 31, 2021 and provided a business update.

“We remain on track and on schedule to complete our enhancement program and launch commercial service later this year,” said Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic. “We achieved many important milestones in 2021 that laid an essential foundation towards becoming a scaled, commercial operation. In recent weeks, we opened sales to the general public and launched our new global consumer brand. Demand for our one-of-a-kind experience remains strong, and we are currently building our operations to accommodate our growing customer base.”

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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.

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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.

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NM’s Latest Plan to Make Money From Spaceport America: Stop Treating SpaceShipTwo Passengers as Freight

SpaceShipTwo Unity on its second glide flight over Spaceport America. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

After waiting 16 years for Virgin Galactic to begin space tourism flights from Spaceport America, New Mexico legislators have hit upon a new idea to try to get some revenues out of the place once the company begins commercial service later this year. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports

A bipartisan bill introduced in the state Legislature seeks to close a loophole that excluded spaceflight passenger tickets from gross receipts taxes. The move aims to harvest revenue from ticket sales as Virgin Galactic prepares to begin regular commercial service later this year. 

H.B. 72 would amend a statute that excludes receipts “from launching, operating or recovering space vehicles or payloads in New Mexico” from gross receipts taxes, clarifying that sales “for transporting any person into or near space” would be taxable. 

A 2019 ruling by the state Taxation and Revenue Department on the question of taxing flights to space essentially treated passengers as freight, stating: “… it seems reasonable to consider passenger revenues as receipts received for the operation of a space vehicle.” 

“When those exemptions were drafted, it was not in anyone’s mind that people would be a payload,” state Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, told the Las Cruces Sun-News. Harper is a co-sponsor of the bill. 

Virgin has sold about 700 tickets to customers at three different prices: $200,000 (until 2013); $250,000 (2013-2021); and $450,000 (2021-present). The amount of the tax would depend upon where it was leveled in Dona Ana County (where Virgin Galactic has its headquarters) or Sierra County (home of Spaceport America).

CountyTicket PriceGross Receipts TaxTotal TaxTotal Cost
Dona Ana County$450,0008.3125$37,406.25$487,405.25
Sierra County$450,0006.9375$31,218.75481,218.75

The state government would receive most of the tax revenues, with the county receiving a smaller portion.

After more than a decade of delay, Virgin Galactic says it plans to complete flight test of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity spacecraft this summer. Commercial suborbital tourism flights are set to begin in the fourth quarter of this year.

Kaboom! ABL Space Destroys Second Stage in Test at Mojave

ABL Space Systems lost a second stage during a test in Mojave on Jan. 19, 2022. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

MOJAVE, Calif. — A loud boom echoed across California’s Mojave Desert on Wednesday afternoon. I would normally pay little attention to it given how common such occurrences are in Mojave. But, this one was different: instead of nearly daily boom-boom of jet fighters from nearby Edwards Air Force Base going supersonic, this one was a single large BOOM!

And oh, there was a giant cloud of black smoke rising from the rocket test area at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Someone’s engine test had clearly gone awry.

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NASA Selects Nine Space Technologies for Commercial Suborbital Flight Tests

Carthage College student Nicolas Welker prepares to start a zero-gravity transfer of propellant simulant during a flight on Zero Gravity Corporation’s G-FORCE ONE on Nov. 16, 2021. The flight enabled testing of technology designed to gauge propellant levels during on-orbit refueling and transfer operations. (Credits: Zero Gravity Corporation/Steve Boxall)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected nine space technologies under the agency’s 2021 TechFlights solicitation for testing aboard parabolic aircraft, high-altitude balloons, and suborbital rocket-powered systems.

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Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Virgin Galactic Alleging Securities Fraud

Michael Colglazier (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A class action lawsuit was filed in New York on Dec. 7 alleging securities fraud by Virgin Galactic, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in October 2019 after merging with Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH).

Named in the lawsuit are Virgin Galactic Holdings, CEO Michael Colglazier, former CEO George Whitesides, former current chief financial officer Doug Ahrens, and former chief financial officer Jon Compagna.

The lawsuit was filed amid years-long delays in the start of commercial human suborbital flights that have caused a sharp decline in the value of the stock. Virgin Galactic began trading on the New York Stock Exchange at an opening price of $12.34 on Oct. 28, 2019. The stock is now trading at $14.46 having previously soared to a high of $62.80.

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NASA Awards Grant for Purdue University Engineer to Fly as Researcher Aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Steven Collicott, an aerospace engineer in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was selected by NASA for a suborbital flight to conduct a research experiment aboard a Virgin Galactic aircraft. (Credit: Purdue University/Rebecca McElhoe)

Editor’s Note: Although NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program has awarded a grant for Steven Collicott to fly as a researcher on SpaceShipTwo, the space agency has yet to approve Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft or Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle to carry agency-funded researchers. Those technical reviews are on-going at the moment. It’s unclear when approvals might be given. Virgin Galactic is scheduled to complete its flight test program next summer and begin flying paying passengers in the fourth quarter of 2022.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (Purdue University PR) — Purdue University’s Steven Collicott was 8 years old when he saw Neil Armstrong step onto the moon and dreamed of reaching the stars. Now, both he and his research are going to make a giant leap into space aboard a Virgin Galactic craft.

Collicott, a professor of aerospace engineering in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was selected Wednesday to receive an award by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program giving him the chance to fly into suborbital space and back on a Virgin Galactic craft while conducting a zero-gravity experiment.

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FAA Decides Bezos, Branson and Shatner Are Astronauts After All

  • Everyone who exceeds 50 miles by Dec. 31 will receive commercial astronaut wing even if they were just passengers
  • Nobody after that will even if they pilot a ship
  • Agency reverses earlier decision to award wings only to those essential to flight operations/success
  • FAA says this is what was intended all along

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) – With the advent of the commercial space tourism era, starting in 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will now recognize individuals who reach space on its website instead of issuing Commercial Space Astronaut Wings. Any individual who is on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth will be listed on the site. 

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Omaze and Virgin Galactic Announce Winner of Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip to Space

Virgin Galactic and Sir Richard Branson’s Omaze sweepstakes raised an anticipated $1.7M in grants to support Space for Humanity’s mission to democratize space travel

LOS ANGELES, C.A., November 24, 2021 (Omaze PR) — Today, Omaze, the charity fundraising platform that offers the chance to win once-in-a-lifetime experiences and prizes, and Virgin Galactic, revealed that Keisha S. from Antigua and Barbuda is the exclusive winner of two seats on a Virgin Galactic commercial space flight. Born and raised in Antigua, Keisha is a health and energy coach who is passionate about empowering women to live their best lives. She has always had a lifelong dream of going to space, and hopes to bring her daughter, an astrophysics student, as her guest on this incredible journey.

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