Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity bows out to make way for Delta Class successor

Company's fate now rests with SpaceShipTwo's followup

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity has flown its final flight, less than a year since the company began commercial operations.

The mission was VSS Unity's 12th successful flight into space and the company's seventh since the first commercial suborbital hop. It reached an apogee of 54.4 miles and a top speed of Mach 2.96. In addition to the crew, the vehicle carried four passengers, including Tuva Cihangir Atasever of the Turkish Space Agency.

Atasever was the backup mission specialist for the private Axiom Space-3 (Ax-3) mission, which docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on January 18, and returned to Earth on February 9. Ax-3 carried another Turkish astronaut, Alper Gezeravcı.

While Gezeravcı spent days in orbit, Atasever had far less time to tend to experiments flown on the Virgin Galactic mission. In addition to custom headgear to monitor brain activity, Atasever also had to deal with a dosimeter and a pair of commercially available insulin pens flown to assess their accuracy in microgravity.

The mission, dubbed Galactic 7, is a bittersweet moment for Virgin Galactic. It marks the end of the SpaceShipTwo era and a lengthy hiatus until the company begins flying its Delta Class ships in 2026.

During an investor call in November 2023, CEO Michael Colglazier warned that Galactic 7 would be the last hurrah for VSS Unity. He confirmed that the total cost to support Unity's flights "surpassed the relatively modest monthly revenues," hence the need to retire the vehicle in favor of the Delta Class.

Colglazier told investors that Delta ships would have 50 percent more seats than Unity, and he expected $2.7 million to $3.6 million in revenue per flight. In an investor call in May 2024, Colglazier said he expected "roughly $450 million in annualized revenue within the first 12 months following entry into commercial service."

In attendance for the final flight was Sir Richard Branson, who took a sub-orbital trip aboard Unity in 2021. Branson has subsequently stepped back from the company, telling the UK's Financial Times: "Virgin Galactic has got $1 billion, or nearly. It should, I believe, have sufficient funds to do its job on its own."

According to the company's financial results for the first quarter of 2024, it had $867 million in cash and equivalents. However, its revenue of $2 million was dwarfed by a net loss of $102 million. Hence, getting the Delta Class ships flying is necessary before the cash runs out.

The company expects to make $3.5 million in revenue for the second quarter of 2024. Its stock price currently stands at $0.85, down from nearly $60 in June 2021. ®

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