Virgin Galactic Still Plans Spaceflight Test This Fall

Virgin Galactic Holdings (NYSE:SPCE) said on Monday that it is still on track to do a space test flight this fall, looking to reassure investors who were disappointed that an earlier test was not what was expected.

In a update published on its website, the company said preparations for the test flight “continue to progress well,” and that the upcoming test should provide some of the data the company needs to win final Federal Aviation Administration approval of its spaceflight license.

The mission will also be revenue generating, a rarity for Virgin Galactic at its current stage. The launch will include three NASA payloads in the cabin that will collect data while the spaceship is at altitude.

The Virgin Unity spacecraft with its mothership.

The Virgin Unity spacecraft attached to its mother ship. Image source: Virgin Galactic.

It will also give the company a chance to test its suite of internal cabin cameras and other customer-experience elements.

Investors are watching Virgin Galactic’s progress carefully. The stock traded down 5% on Oct. 30 after the company announced it had tested only the mother ship designed to help get Virgin’s spacecraft to altitude, and not the spacecraft itself.

But there is a word of caution in the update as well. Mike Moses, president of space missions and safety at Virgin Galactic, wrote that “… if test conditions on the day suggest a shorter burn, that’s fine and we’ll return to fly again soon.”

Virgin Galactic aims to sell tourists brief trips into space at ticket prices of $250,000 or more. The company says it has a backlog of deposits, but it is still very much a speculative venture.

Investors would love to see it hit its goal to start sending tourists to space early next year so it can begin to make good on that potential, and hopefully turn into a strong growth story. Getting this test flight off the ground would be a step in that direction.

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Virgin Galactic Initiated Neutral – Prospects Up in the Air

Shares of Virgin Galactic  (SPCE)  fell on Friday after Goldman Sachs analyst Noah Poponak began coverage of the space-travel company with a neutral rating.

Virgin was founded and is partly owned by U.K. serial entrepreneur Richard Branson

Poponak pegged his share-price target at $19, below the estimates of all other analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. 

The stock recently traded at $19.29, down 7%. It has dropped 67% this year amid intense competition and uncertain prospects.

Virgin Galactic hopes to lead the pack for private space travel, which could be a lucrative market. But “time to realization of the opportunity is very long, customer adoption and recurrence uncertain, and potential for competition not insignificant,” Poponak wrote in a commentary cited by Bloomberg.

“The key question for investing in SPCE is how many people will want to fly to space and how much will they pay to do so.” 

Virgin faces stiff competition from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.

Last month, Susquehanna analyst Charles Minervino initiated coverage of Virgin Galactic with a positive rating and $20 share-price target.

Virgin Galactic is an “innovator of space technology with a truly unique offering that will allow civilians and professionals alike to access space for entertainment and research purposes,” Minervino wrote in a commentary cited by Bloomberg.

“While this is an untested market, we believe SPCE’s offering will be tapping into significant latent demand for space tourism.” The company’s revenue streams can spread, he said.

To be sure, the company is just starting to take off, Minervino said, with positive Ebitda and cash flow unlikely until 2023.

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Window opens for Virgin Galactic’s final round of testing

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The window for the final round of testing of Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered spacecraft opens later this week as the company inches toward commercial flights.

Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses updated New Mexico lawmakers on the progress during a meeting Monday. He said the space tourism company already has done nine flights from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico, including two glide flights by the spaceship.

While the exact date has yet to be determined, the upcoming test will mark the third space flight for Virgin Galactic and the first from New Mexico. Moses called it a big milestone for an idea that was first pitched decades ago.

“New Mexico will join California and Florida as only the third state in the U.S. to host human space flight missions and send people into space,” Moses said.

For the test flight, two pilots will crew the spacecraft and cargo including several research projects will be carried in the cabin. Assuming everything goes well and the engineers sign off, Moses said Virgin Galactic can then move to the next phase, which will involve company mission specialists and engineers being loaded into the passenger cabin. They will evaluate all the hardware, camera settings and which angles will provide the best views.

“This is going to be a life-changing experience for folks and we want to make sure we’re delivering an A+ ride,” he said.

More than 600 customers from around the world have purchased tickets to be launched into the lower fringes of space where they can experience weightlessness and get a view of the Earth below. The suborbital flights are designed to reach an altitude of at least 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) before gliding to a landing.

In addition to those who have put down deposits for a ride with Virgin Galactic, several thousands more have registered their interest online.

The idea to build the spaceport in the New Mexico desert was first hatched years ago by British billionaire Richard Branson and former Gov. Bill Richardson. Branson will be among the first passengers sometime in the first quarter next year.

“He’s probably our biggest fan as well as our biggest critic so who better to help judge that experience than him,” Moses said.

That experience will involve about an hour of climbing to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15 kilometers), with the spacecraft attached to a special jet-powered plane. The craft will then be released and light its rocket engine.

“We climb up to space altitude but gravity wins and pulls us right back down again,” Moses explained.

“We don’t have nearly enough speed to stay in orbit so we just go up and right back down again — about a minute of rocket motor burn, about four minutes of weightlessness and then about 15 minutes to come back and land.”

Moses said passengers will get to see a view of the Earth similar to the first photographs taken of the planet from a V-2 rocket that was

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