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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China’s Suborbital Space Tourism Ambitions Heat Up as Two Companies Seek to Challenge Blue Origin & Virgin Galactic

CAS Space crewed suborbital vehicle in flight. (Credit: CAS Space)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Two Chinese companies — CAS Space and Space Transportation — are pursuing the suborbital tourism market, with the former closely copying Blue Origin’s fully reusable New Shepard vehicle and the latter developing a winged vehicle that could be adapted for hypersonic point-to-point travel between distant locations on Earth.

CAS Space, a.k.a., Guangzhou Zhongke Aerospace Exploration Technology Co., Ltd., is developing a single-stage reusable rocket that lands under its own power topped with a capsule that descends under three parachutes.

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Artemis I Carries the Future of NASA with It

The Space Launch System rocket fairing with ESA and NASA logos on the launchpad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. The new ESA logo and NASA’s ‘worm’ logo will be along for the ride on the first full mission of the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Of the six launches known to be scheduled to close out August, there’s only one – Artemis I — that truly matters in any real sense. The others will be duly recorded but little remembered in what could be the busiest launch year in human history.

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Virtuoso Partners with Virgin Galactic for Ticket Sales Referral Program

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Virtuoso adds spaceflight partner to its exclusive global portfolio
  • Limited number of remaining seats available to Virtuoso’s global client base

NEW YORK & TUSTIN, Calif. (Virtuoso/Virgin Galactic PR) — Virtuoso®, the leading global network specializing in luxury and experiential travel, and Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE), an aerospace and space travel company, today announced a strategic partnership to make a limited number of seats for Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight experience available to Virtuoso’s global client base.

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Virgin Galactic Announces New Spaceship Manufacturing Facility in Mesa, Arizona

Credit: Virgin Galactic

MESA, Ariz., July 14, 2022 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), an aerospace and space travel company, today announced it has signed a long-term lease for a new final assembly manufacturing facility for its next-generation Delta class spaceships. Located in Mesa, Greater Phoenix area, adjacent to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, the facility will be capable of producing up to six spaceships per year and will bring hundreds of highly skilled aerospace engineering and manufacturing jobs to the area.

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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 Galactic Selects Boeing Subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences to Build 2 New WhiteKnightTwo Aircraft

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
  • Agreement with Aurora Flight Sciences to Deliver Two Vehicles, Each Designed to Fly Up To 200 Launches Per Year
  • First New Mothership Expected to Enter Service in 2025
  • Outsourced Manufacturing Approach Will Improve Speed to Market, Provide Access to Labor Pools, Minimize Supply Chain Disruption, and Realize Efficiencies

TUSTIN, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), an aerospace and space travel company, today announced an agreement with Aurora Flight Sciences (“Aurora”), a Boeing company, to partner in the design and manufacturing of the Company’s next generation motherships. The mothership is the air launch carrier aircraft in Virgin Galactic’s space flight system, that carries the spaceship to its release altitude of approximately 50,000 feet.

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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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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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