Virgin Galactic Surges on Plan for Key Rocket Test Flight May 22
(Bloomberg) -- Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. surged after the space-tourism company said it would conduct a test flight of its VSS Unity spacecraft May 22, signaling progress for plans to fly founder Richard Branson this summer and eventually sign up more customers.
The test was cleared after “a detailed inspection and thorough analysis” of the plane that carries Unity aloft before its rockets fire, the company said Thursday. Virgin Galactic said May 11 that it had found “fatigue and stress” on the four-engine VMS Eve plane following a flight a week earlier. That could have delayed the Unity test.
The new test schedule bolsters Virgin Galactic’s chances of staying on track for commercial service -- and the resumption of ticket sales -- later this year following Branson’s long-awaited flight to space. The company also plans to fly two members of the Italian Air Force this fall in its first official revenue-producing mission. Virgin Galactic is charging $500,000 for seats on that microgravity experience and $600,000 for later research and training flights.
Virgin Galactic jumped 23% to $21.26 at 9:32 a.m. in New York after advancing as much as 25% for the biggest intraday gain since Feb. 1. The shares fell 27% this year through Wednesday.
The upcoming Unity test will be crewed by two pilots and carry research payloads for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Eve will fly Unity to an altitude of about 50,000 feet, at which point the spacecraft will fire its rockets to continue on.
A key objective will be to test remedial work on Unity to lower the electromagnetic interference detected in December when the on-board computer halted rocket ignition. The mission will run additional examinations as well, including evaluation of the customer cabin and checking livestream capability from the spaceship to the ground.
Virgin Galactic has a roster of 600 ticket holders who have paid as much as $250,000 each for a suborbital flight, but said it would offer only “a finite number” of new tickets once sales restart. The company, based in Las Cruces, New Mexico, suspended sales after a 2014 crash killed a test pilot.
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