Virgin Galactic delays space tourism flights to early 2022

Virgin Galactic has announced that it is pushing its space tourism program launch date back to “early 2022,” abandoning hopes it would begin the program this year. The announcement came Thursday afternoon in an earnings call.

The news follows problems with a disappointing December 2020 launch, when the rocket motor of SpaceShipTwo did not ignite. That flight, had it gone well, was supposed to be the ship’s last test before specialists were going to join to focus on improvements for passengers.

The chief executive expected subsequent test flights to take place in the summer, including one with four people in the cabin as well as Sir Richard Branson’s long-expected ride. A “revenue generating” flight with Italian Air Force pilots should take place in the summer or fall. After those, both the current SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo host aircraft would spend four months receiving upgrades.

There’s news to look forward to in the near term. Virgin confirmed that it would reveal its next spacecraft, SpaceShip 3, on March 30th. There’s not much to see beyond the enigmatic teaser you see below, but Virgin is clearly readying for a day when it’s regularly taking paying passengers to space.

The delay will clearly hurt the company’s bottom line, though. While it’s improving its fortunes and has $666 million in cash, Virgin still lost $74 million in the last quarter of 2020. It clearly can’t afford many more setbacks without running into trouble.

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