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Virgin Galactic delays commercial suborbital flights again

Buys up land to train and entertain space tourists when they do start

Virgin Galactic (VG) is once again delaying its commercial service, shifting the expected launch of well-to-do space tourists from the first three months of 2023 to Q2, amid widening losses for the business.

On a call with investors yesterday, CEO Michael Colglazier blamed the delay on supply-chain woes and labor shortages, which he said disrupted "the complex work" needed to prepare the craft for operation.

In May 2021 the Richard Branson-founded company pushed back the commercial spaceflight service to Q1 2023.

Colglazier said on the call:

Last quarter, we shared that like many companies around the world, we were experiencing elevated levels of supply chain disruptions, as well as labor constraints. Many of these conditions have persisted through Q2 and our teams have put forth incredible efforts to navigate the many challenges presented.

The CEO added that "despite our best efforts, progress on our enhancement program in Mojave, particularly the complex work to prepare need for commercial service, is taking longer than we planned."

As for the rocket plane VSS Unity, there will be no new flight tests until Q1 2023. VSS Imagine, meanwhile, won't start its flight tests until mid-2023, with the CEO saying the service for what the company calls "private astronauts" on Imagine would start the last three months of 2023.

Earlier this week, VG revealed it had bought land in Sierra County, New Mexico where space tourists and up to three of their non-space-going pals can spend time "in advance of a spaceflight from Spaceport America." Besides the obvious training facilities for the would-be private astronauts, there's also a "wellness center, recreation activities, and unique dining options."

spaceport america waiting lounge

Another 100 space tourists buy a ride from Virgin Galactic: $25k of that ticket deposit is 'non-refundable'


CFO Doug Ahrens, meanwhile, talked up what VG sees as future growth markets, including big government-linked and private science and research clients (expected to take 100 of the first 1,000 seats) and the "luxury travel sector" – which it is hoping to develop with so-called "luxury and experiential travel" expert Virtuoso, which will be given just under 100 of the tickets.

"Partnering with Virtuoso gives us immediate access to deep relationships with customers around the world who are looking for one of a kind journey, but who may not yet have considered space travel," Ahrens said. Presumably that's those who're wealthy, but not enough to afford their own ride.

The company reported revenue of $357,000 in the calendar second quarter, which it said was "driven by future astronaut membership fees." Operating expenses were $110 million, up from $74 million in the prior year. The CFO said the increase of $36 million was "primarily attributable to higher R&D costs tied to our fleet enhancement activity and the ramp up development work on our future motherships and spaceships."

It also reported the GAAP net loss of $111 million, compared to $94 million in the prior year period.

Although it has $1.1 billion in cash and securities, the company also filed with SEC to sell $300 million in shares through Credit Suisse Securities, Morgan Stanley & Co and Goldman Sachs.

Reaction to news of the delay from the markets was swift: the stock fell 9 percent to $7.45 after the NYSE closed. ®

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