Virgin Galactic gears up to return to flight next quarter

Virgin Galactic has been in an idle mode for the past year and a half as it worked through an FAA investigation and refurbishment of its aircrafts. Now the company sounds ready to pick up the pace, with flights returning soon.

VMS Eve returns to Spaceport America

Earlier this week, VMS Eve, the mother ship that carries VSS Unity for an air launch, returned to Spaceport America, New Mexico, after a lengthy refurbishment program. The work was mainly done to Eve’s horizontal stabilizers and the mounting point for Unity. This test flight was the final step before reattaching Unity for its round of test flights.

These next test flights will include a glide flight and a powered flight of VSS Unity, its first flights since July 2021, where it flew Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson. Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered aircraft uses a unique hybrid engine with solid fuel and a gaseous oxidizer blown through it for combustion. Also, since Unity needs to be piloted for ascent and landing, these test flights will have Virgin Galactic personnel onboard, at least a pilot and co-pilot, but possibly more.

Commerical flights returning in Q2 2023

When these test flights conclude, VMS Eve and VSS Unity will be ready to return to flying commercial customers. On an earnings call, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said that he expects to start these flights back up in the second quarter. For those that don’t speak finance, that’s April through June.

The first of these flights will be for the Italian Air Force, with three mission specialists on board conducting several experiments in flight. After that, the company will have to work through some 800 ticket holders that are patiently waiting for their space flight.

The company expects it can start flying once a month with VSS Unity, but it will take time for its crew to work on turning the vehicles over that fast. The company began work on a second aircraft, VSS Imagine, but that work has been stopped without any word on when or if it will return.

Virgin Galactic’s Delta class aircraft are set to join the fleet in 2025 and could help burn through that back long with improved reusability.

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