Suborbinomics: The Astronomical Cost of Getting From Point A to Point A

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Resplendent in a blue Virgin Galactic flight suit, Richard Branson was in an exuberant mood as he sat at the New York Stock Exchange doing a TV interview on Oct. 28, 2019. His space tourism company had just gone public in a $774 million merger with billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social Capital Hedosophia special purpose acquisition company.

Virgin Galactic now had an estimated market value of more than $2.2 billion despite never having flown a single passenger or earned any serious revenue in 15 years. Virgin Galactic would have $450 million to complete its flight test program and begin commercial flights — if the company’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings were to be believed — in June 2020. Branson and the Mubadala Investment Company, an Abu Dhabi government sovereign wealth fund, would divide up $274 million to offset about $1 billion in investment made thus far.

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Virgin Galactic Sees Departure of Chief Legal Officer & Director of Safety as Company Fights Lawsuits

Michelle Kley (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic has seen the departures of its director of safety and chief legal officer over the past month.

Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel Michelle Kley is leaving Virgin Galactic as of July 19 after two years and seven months with the company. She will become chief legal officer at Volta, a company that runs an electric vehicle charging network.

Her departure comes as Virgin Galactic battles lawsuits from unhappy shareholders who claim to have lost money since the company went public more than 2.5 years ago.

Kley joined Virgin Galactic as executive vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and secretary in December 2019. She previously served as senior vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and secretary at Maxar Technologies from July 2016 to March 2019.

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Virgin Orbit Successfully Launches Seven Satellites

Cosmic Girl takes off for the Straight Up mission on July 1, 2022. (Credit: Virgin Orbit/Virgin Orbit/Dae Dae)

MOJAVE, Calif., July 2, 2022 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) has confirmed the success of its fourth consecutive satellite launch mission. This launch, named Straight Up, carried seven satellites to Low Earth Orbit for the United States Space Force (USSF), who procured this launch for the Rocket Systems Launch Program, with payloads provided by the Department of Defense Space Test Program (STP). In support of its mission partners, Virgin Orbit has now delivered a total of thirty-three satellites to orbit with 100% mission success.

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Tom Markusic Out as Firefly CEO 3 Months After AEI Takes Majority Stake in Rocket Company

Tom Markusic and Lauren Lyons in front of Firefly Alpha rocket on the pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Firefly Aerospace co-founder Tom Markusic is out as CEO, a move that comes three months after AE Industrial Partners (AEI) led a $75 million Series B funding round and completed its acquisition of a majority stake in the rocket company.

Firefly announced this week that Markusic transitioned to the role of full-time board member and chief technical advisor on Thursday, June 16. He remains “a significant minority investor” in the company, which is preparing for the second flight test of its Alpha small-satellite booster.

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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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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.”

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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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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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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.

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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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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. 

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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.”

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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.”

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