Virgin Galactic’s wild roller coaster ride on Wall Street continued over the past week as Richard Branson’s spaceline marked five months as a publicly traded company and 13 months since the last launch of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle.
Since debuting on the New York Stock Exchange at $12 last Oct. 28, the stock soared to a high of $42.49 on Feb. 20 before sinking to $10.49 on March 19. Over the past week, the stock has risen again; it reached $14.68 in after-hours trading on Monday.
Video Caption: Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 conducted a slow-speed taxi test down the runway with a fueled LauncherOne under its wing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on March 5, 2020. The test covered about 2 miles on runway 12-30.
The taxi test was a precursor to a flight test with a fueled booster for Sir Richard Branson’s launch company. LauncherOne is designed to orbit small satellites after being dropped from the modified Boeing airliner. Virgin Orbit plans to conduct a flight test of the booster for later this year.
Investment in commercial space companies soared to $5.7 billion in 2019 from $3.5 billion the year before, but the bulk of the funding went to a handful of companies most of which are run by billionaires, according to a new report from Bryce Space and Technology.
Virgin Galactic Founder predicts SpaceShipTwo would be ready to fly in 12 months. A year after that — March 2009 — the vehicle would begin commercial suborbital space flights.
The reality is that in 2007 they didn’t have an engine capable of firing for the one minute needed to send SpaceShipTwo above 50 miles. They weren’t even close to having one. It would take another 7.5 years to develop one they would even risk firing for more than 20 seconds in flight.
SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise was destroyed on Oct. 31, 2014 during the flight during which they were supposed to test that engine. That accident set the program back by another five years.
Virgin Galactic Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya was on a financial news network yesterday denying the stock was a bubble, a claim that hasn’t aged well in the short term.
With shares soaring to a high of $41.55 only a week ago, they are hovering at around $23 as I writing this story. The shares were offered at $12 when Virgin Galactic went public last Oct. 28 and rose sharply in recent weeks.
The shares slid after Virgin Galactic reported a larger than expected loss for the fourth quarter 2019 and hinted at delays in the start of commercial suborbital flights, which were to have started in June. Analysts have downgraded the stock based on the earnings report.
Richard Branson’s now publicly traded Virgin Galactic space tourism company had its first quarterly and full year earnings call on Tuesday. You can read the press releasehere. Below are the key takeaways.
Burning cash: Net losses were nearly $72.8 million for the fourth quarter and $210.9 million for 2019. Net losses for 2018 and 2019 totaled $349.1 million. Total expenditures since 2004 have exceeded $1 billion.
Four years after it was first rolled out, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity left the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Thursday for its new home at in New Mexico, where it will undergo final flight testing and preparation for commercial suborbital space flights.
The clock struck midnight on Jan. 1 amid raucous celebrations around the world. The arrival of a new year and decade merely confirmed what had been clear for months: 2019 was not the breakthrough year for getting humans off the planet.
Neither Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin followed through on long-standing promises to fly paying passengers on suborbital joyrides. An era of commercial space tourism that seemed so close that October day in 2004 when Brian Binnie guided SpaceShipOne to a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port quietly slipped into yet another year.
After spending months at Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier ship VMS Eve flew back to the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Friday.
The pilots made about a half dozen low passes over runway 12-30. Several were just above the runway, while others were touch-and-goes on which they briefly landed before soaring again into the desert sky.
Virgin Galactic officials have said that WhiteKnightTwo would return to Mojave to transport SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to the Spaceport America to complete its flight test program.
Virgin Galactic is hoping to fly it founder, Richard Branson, on the first commercial SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight in time for his 70th birthday on July 18.
The company has said it has a backlog of 603 ticket holders who have paid either $200,000 or $250,000 apiece. Thousands of other potential space tourists have expressed interest in signing up once Virgin Galactic starts selling tickets again, officials said. The company plans to take reservations at an even higher price once commercial service begins.
Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.
There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:
Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
Officials from New Mexico, the federal government and Virgin Galactic met last week behind closed doors for the state’s first Space Valley Summit to form a “collaboratory” to promote Spaceport America and the state’s aerospace economy.
The one group not invited: taxpayers who have forked over about $250 million to build the spaceport where Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant. As the Las Cruces Sun News dryly noted
Minutes after [Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham] exhorted the summit to “make sure every New Mexican … knows exactly what is happening here,” all reporters were asked to leave.
I recently talked with Paul Gessing who runs the Tipping Point New Mexico podcast. We talked about my article, “Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic: The Numbers Never Added Up,” which looked at the promises made to justifying spending $225 million on a custom-built spaceport for Richard Branson’s suborbital space tourism company. We also discussed Virgin Galactic’s recent move to go public.
Five years ago today, SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise broke up over the Mojave Desert during a flight test. Co-pilot Mike Alsbury died and pilot Pete Siebold was seriously injured.
The crash ended Virgin Galactic’s effort to begin commercial crewed suborbital spaceflights in the first quarter of 2015. Those flights are not forecast to begin in June 2020 — five years later than planned.