SPACovirus Sweeps Space Sector

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)
Wall Street’s latest easy money craze has attracted a growing number of space companies. But, just because they can go public, should they?

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Seven space companies have gotten caught up in the SPACovirus sweeping through Wall Street. The impact on the space industry is going to be interesting to watch.

A SPAC is a special purpose acquisition company. It’s a publicly traded investment firm that, with outside investors, acquires or merges with another company, and then takes the acquisition public under its own name.

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Virgin Galactic Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya Sells Entire Personal Stake Worth $213 Million

Chamath Palihapitiya (Credit: SCH)
  • Move follows Palihapitiya’s sale of shares worth nearly $98 million in December
  • Virgin Galactic shares continued weeks-long decline after news broke
  • Palihapitiya indirectly owns a large stake through Social Capital Hedosophia

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya has sold 6.2 million personal shares in the suborbital space tourism company worth about $213 million. The sale zeros out his personal stake in Virgin Galactic.

The move follows Palihapitiya’s sale of 3.8 million shares worth $97.8 million in December. The nearly $311 million gain is more than triple the $100 million he personally invested in Virgin Galactic when it went public 16 months ago.

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Virgin Galactic Stock Plunges as Company Delays Space Tourism Flights to 2022

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity arrives at Spaceport America aboard WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Shares of Virgin Galactic plunged sharply on Thursday as the company announced that it was postponing the start of commercial suborbital space tourism flights until 2022 due to additional delays in completing SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity‘s test program.

Shares plunged in after hours trading to $36.69 after opening the day at $45.04. Most of the decline occurred in after hours trading following the release of Virgin Galactic quarterly and full year 2020 earning report.

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Virgin Galactic Postpones Suborbital Flight Test

Virgin Galactic had planned to fly from Spaceport America in New Mexico as early as Saturday. The company has said there are open dates for the rest of February.

The suborbital flight will include two pilots and a load of microgravity experiments in the passenger cabin. It will be a repeat of a flight that was aborted in December after VSS Unity‘s computer lost contact with the ship’s hybrid engine.

The upcoming flight will be the first of three final suborbital tests of the rocket plane before Virgin Galactic begins flying paying passengers. The company said it might add more flight tests if necessary.

2020 a Busy Year for Suborbital Launches

New Shepard landing on the pad in West Texas on October 13, 2020, with the NASA Lunar Landing Sensor Demo onboard. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Suborbital launch used to be a sleepy field that rarely attracted much public attention. Let’s face it, atmospheric research and student experiments are not front-page news. Sounding rockets don’t have the majesty and power of a Falcon 9 or Atlas V.

In recent years, exciting new entrants in the field and widespread streaming of launches have made suborbital flights exciting. Last year saw important suborbital flight tests by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Skyrora that garnered worldwide interest.

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As Virgin Galactic Crew Celebrated Second Suborbital Flight, Problems Loomed Behind the Scenes

Chief Pilot David Mackay celebrates a successful flight with champagne as Chief Astronaut Beth Moses looks on. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Newly arrived back on Earth after a quick visit to space, Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Beth Moses was effusive as she described the suborbital flight she had just taken aboard the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, VSS Unity.

“Richard, you’re going to love it!” she told Virgin Chairman Richard Branson, who had remotely monitored the Feb. 22, 2019 flight that had taken place over California’s Mojave Desert.

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Upcoming Launches: Falcon 9, Starship, Soyuz and SpaceShipTwo

Falcon 9 lifts off with 60 Starlink satellites. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Tuesday, February 2

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz 2.1b
Payload: Lotus S-1 signal intelligence satellite
Launch Time: 3:45 a.m. EST (2045 UTC)
Launch Site: Plesetsk Cosmodrome

NET Tuesday, February 2

Launch Vehicle: SpaceX Starship SN9
Mission: Flight Test
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Boca Chica, Texas

Flight date depends upon completion of review and the issuing of a launch license by Federal Aviation Administration.

Wednesday, February 3

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payloads: 60 Starlink broadband satellites
Launch Time: 5:57 a.m. EST (1057 UTC)
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Thursday, February 4

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payloads: 60 Starlink broadband satellites
Launch Time: 1:19 a.m. EST (0619 UTC)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

NET Saturday, February 13

Launch Vehicle: VSS Unity/VMS Eve
Payload: Two pilots, microgravity experiments
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Spaceport America, New Mexico

Repeat of a flight test aborted on Dec. 12 due the computer losing contact with the engine. Launch opportunities extend through February. First of three additional tests intended to complete SpaceShipTwo’s initial flight test program.

The Virgin Updates: Orbit Resets Launch Date, Galactic Finds Cause of In-flight Abort

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has rescheduled the second flight of LauncherOne booster for Wednesday, Jan. 13. The flight was originally scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 10. The operation is set to take place from 7-10 a.m. PST (1500-1800 UTC). As always, your local time may vary. Please adjust accordingly.

The modified Boeing 747-400 Cosmic Girl will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It will fly out over the Pacific Ocean and release LauncherOne to the west of San Nicolas Island. The booster, carrying 10 CubeSats for NASA, will ignite its first stage and head to space.

Parabolic Arc will be in Mojave to cover the takeoff and landing. Look for live updates at www.twitter.com/spacecom.

Virgin Orbit’s first attempt to fly LauncherOne ended in failure on May 25, 2020. The rocket’s first stage cut off about four seconds after ignition after a fuel line broke. The booster was carrying a mass simulator.

Meanwhile, sister company Virgin Galactic says it has found the cause of the failure that resulted in an in-flight abort of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity in December. The suborbital space plane’s engine shut off after the vehicle’s computer lost contact with it.

The two pilots aboard safely glided the ship back to a landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico. VSS Unity was carrying a load of microgravity experiments for NASA.

Virgin Galactic did not say exactly what exactly caused the computer to lose contact with the engine. Nor did the company set a date for a repeat flight test.

Virgin Galactic has said it plans three additional flight tests of VSS Unity before beginning commercial suborbital tourism flights sometime later this year.

The Year of the Four Spaceships: Final Report

Crew Dragon docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, I went out on a limb and predicted that 2020 could be the Year of the Four Spaceships, with SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic and reaching major milestones in human spaceflight. (See 2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day)

With the disruption and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t the easiest year to get things done. Keeping that in mind, let’s see how the companies did in 2020. (Spoiler Alert: they came up a little short.)

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Virgin Galactic Looks on the Bright Side After Launch Abort

WhiteKnightTwo takes off with SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity from Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was a flight 22 months in the making. But, when it came time for the rubber to meet the oxidizer, the whole thing suddenly flamed out.

The hybrid engine on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity failed to fire properly on Saturday, sending the suborbital rocket plane, pilots David Mackay and C.J. Sturckow and a load of NASA-sponsored experiments into a rapid descent and landing back at Spaceport America, instead of a graceful parabolic arc into suborbital space.

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Virgin Galactic Delays SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Due to COVID-19

SpaceShipTwo Unity in its first powered flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight in nearly two years will have to wait a bit longer due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has postponed a powered flight test of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity that had been scheduled to take place between Nov. 19-23 from Spaceport America after New Mexico reenacted its shelter in place order as the rising number coronavirus cases have begun to overwhelm hospitals.

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CSA, Virgin Galactic Sign MOU on Microgravity Flights, Spaceflight Participants

SpaceShipTwo cabin interior. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LONGUEUIL, Que. (CSA PR) — The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Virgin Galactic today, heralding the beginning of a collaborative relationship between the two  organizations.

The purpose of this collaboration is to explore the possibilities of using the Virgin Galactic Spaceflight System (VSS), which offers suborbital microgravity flights, for future CSA payloads and spaceflight participants. It also aims to facilitate the exchange of information on collaboration opportunities between Virgin Galactic, the CSA, and the Canadian space industry and academia.

Virgin Galactic and the CSA will begin by discussing the capabilities of the VSS and related Virgin Galactic services. The two organizations will also look at creating opportunities to consult with Canadian industry and potential users of the VSS.

This agreement will support the CSA’s objective to be Canada’s leader in capability demonstration by providing the space industry, universities and other government departments with access to platforms, demonstration opportunities and unique expertise.

Virgin Galactic’s Net Loss Grows to $77 Million, Company Sets Schedule for Additional Flight Tests

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • First of three additional flight tests set for later this month
  • Richard Branson scheduled to fly on third flight test in Q1 2021
  • New SpaceShipTwo set to rollout in Q1 2021

LAS CRUCES, N.M., November 5, 2020 (Virgin Galactic PR)– Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or the “Company”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced its financial results for the third quarter ended September 30, 2020.

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Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Conducts Flight Test on Eve of Earnings Call

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

One week before Virgin Galactic is expected to report another large quarterly loss, the company’s WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve took to the skies on Thursday over Spaceport America for the first time since June 25.

The flight was the first of four tests designed to pave the way for Virgin Galactic to begin commercial SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism flights with VSS Unity during the first quarter of next year.

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For New Virgin Galactic CEO, the Ultimate Perk: An All-Expenses Paid Trip to Space

Michael Colglazier (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For 26 years, Michael Colglazier worked for a company whose theme parks feature a popular attraction named Space Mountain. They aren’t really mountains and they don’t go anywhere near space, but as rollercoasters they are pretty good.

When the former Walt Disney Company executive signed on to become Virgin Galactic’s CEO in July, his contract included a free ride to space for himself and three friends aboard his new employer’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle.

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