Virgo galactic is postponing the start of its commercial space tourism service to the fourth quarter of 2022, with the company announcing a reorganization of its development and test flight schedule on Thursday.
The space tourism company will begin renovating and upgrading its spacecraft and carrier aircraft this month. A process that, according to a spokesman for Virgin Galactic told CNBC, is expected to take eight to ten months – with completion between June and August.
Virgin Galactic had planned to begin the “improvement period” after the next space flight called Unity 23, requiring “another physical inspection”.
With work on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spacecraft and VMS Eve carrier aircraft commencing this month, the process will make mid-2022 the earliest time the Unity 23 can fly.
“The reorganization of our improvement period and flight Unity 23 underscores our security practices, provides the most efficient route to commercial services and is the right approach for our business and our customers,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic in a statement.
Virgin Galactic’s shares fell 20% in early trading on Friday. The stock rose just 1% for 2021 at the close of trading on Thursday.
Unity 23 will now come after the improvement process that Virgin Galactic said was “designed to further increase margins for improved reliability, durability and reduced maintenance”. Virgin Galactic had two more space flights planned for the third quarter of 2022 – Unity 24 and Unity 25, the latter marking the launch of the commercial service – but these no longer have public target dates.
The renovation phase should also start in September, but the Federal Aviation Administration had left Virgin Galactic down for most of the last month to investigate a mishap that occurred during the flight that transported the company’s founder Sir Richard Branson. The FAA gave Virgin Galactic permission to return to the flight upon completion of the investigation.