Boeing and subsidiary file trade secrets lawsuit against Virgin Galactic

Oh, and there's small matter of an alleged $26M in unpaid bills

Updated Boeing and its subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation have sued Virgin Galactic, alleging the space tourism company has misappropriated trade secrets.

In addition, Boeing and Aurora noted that Virgin Galactic has failed to pay it almost $26 million for work on new craft.

In 2022, Virgin Galactic selected Aurora to build new motherships for its spacecraft as replacements for the VMS Eve carrier aircraft.

VMS Eve carries Virgin Galactic's Space Ship Unity to approximately 44,000 feet. That unit is then released so its engine can take occupants to sub-orbital space.

At the time, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said: "Our next-generation motherships are integral to scaling our operations. They will be faster to produce, easier to maintain, and will allow us to fly substantially more missions each year.

"Supported by the scale and strength of Boeing, Aurora is the ideal manufacturing partner for us as we build our fleet to support 400 flights per year at Spaceport America," Colglazier said at the time.

The plan called for the first new mothership to enter service in 2025.

This didn't pan out. Aurora concluded that a new mothership would cost nearly twice as much as Virgin Galactic hoped and would not be completed before 2027.

According to papers filed by Boeing and Aurora: "Virgin Galactic did not like that answer."

Work ceased and Virgin Galactic was left owing more than $25 million, according to Aurora.

Aurora also alleged that "Virgin Galactic possessed little engineering documentation for the design of Eve, meaning that Aurora had to do more reverse engineering than expected to advance the design of Eve's replacement."

Also included in the court documents are allegations that Virgin Galactic misappropriated Aurora and Boeing's trade secrets in the form of Math Model Documents and the 262 Document. The former contained equations documenting how an aircraft might perform, and the latter contained test data regarding IM7/8552 composite material.

While the Math Model Documents were "inadvertently disclosed through a SharePoint site," Aurora stated: "These trade secrets are proprietary information to which Virgin Galactic holds no contractual rights, and both are subject to an agreement requiring Virgin Galactic to return or destroy proprietary information at Aurora's direction."

According to Aurora: "Virgin Galactic has refused to do so."

Virgin Galactic did not immediately respond to The Register's request for comment. In the company's most recent earnings call, Colglazier was keen to talk up the impending Delta-class ships but admitted that additional growth capital would be needed for more motherships. ®

Updated at 17.13 UTC on March 27, 2024, to add:

A spokesperson at Virgin Galactic sent us the following statement after publication. "We believe this lawsuit is wrong on the facts and the law, and we will vigorously defend ourselves in the appropriate forum."

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