WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic says it’s delaying the following check flight of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital car by greater than two months to handle technical points, a part of a revamped flight check program that may postpone flights of house vacationers to 2022.
In an earnings name Feb. 25 timed to the discharge of its fourth quarter and full yr 2020 monetary outcomes, firm executives blamed an aborted test flight of SpaceShipTwo Dec. 12 on electromagnetic interference (EMI) that brought on a flight laptop to reboot simply because the car ignited its hybrid rocket engine. The car glided to a protected touchdown at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, stated a brand new flight management laptop system is the probably supply of elevated ranges of EMI. The corporate took steps to defend elements from that interference to keep away from the same reboot and ready to make a powered check flight as quickly as Feb. 13. However within the remaining days of preparations, technicians famous continued EMI points with car techniques.
“We noticed a few of our sensor readings — pressures and temperatures, these sorts of issues — present some uncommon fluctuations, which tell us EMI was nonetheless current and perhaps in techniques we didn’t initially anticipate,” he stated. Now, the corporate is pursuing a modification to the flight management laptop that’s the supply of the EMI.
That modification will probably be examined within the coming weeks each within the lab and on the car itself earlier than resuming flight checks. The corporate now expects that powered check flight to happen in Might.
Michael Colglazier, chief government of Virgin Galactic, stated the corporate is sticking to the flight check program it introduced final fall. The Might flight will probably be adopted by two extra: one with two pilots and a “full cabin” of firm workers to check the passenger cabin of the car, adopted by one with firm founder Richard Branson on board. Colglazier stated the corporate isn’t but asserting particular dates for these flights, however expects each to happen this summer season.
That will probably be adopted by a flight for the Italian Air Power, confirming an agreement signed in October 2019. That flight will carry a set of analysis payloads and three Italian payload specialists, and generate income for the corporate. Colglazier stated that flight would probably happen in late summer season or early fall and generate income for the corporate, “and can conclude our product check program.”
Concurrently the corporate places the present SpaceShipTwo, known as VSS Unity, by way of its remaining check flights, Virgin Galactic will start testing of its subsequent suborbital car, which the corporate introduced will probably be known as SpaceShip III. That class of autos contains a “modular design” that may lead to the next flight price and higher maintainability, he stated.
The primary SpaceShip III car will probably be rolled out March 30 and start flight checks in the summertime. Colglazier stated that flight check program will embrace 4 glide flights and 4 powered check flights, with the powered flights to house producing income, though he didn’t clarify in what manner. Some SpaceShipTwo check flights have generated restricted income by flying payloads by way of NASA’s Flight Alternatives program.
After these checks, he stated there will probably be a “multi-month interval” to make modifications to the car earlier than a remaining glide flight and powered flight. On the identical time, Virgin Galactic will “implement enhancements and speed up some long-term upkeep updates” to the WhiteKnightTwo provider plane, VMS Eve, utilized by each Unity and SpaceShip III. Unity will even bear “some extra enhancements” on the identical time.
That implies that, beginning within the fall, Virgin Galactic will stand down from both check or business flights for about 4 months, delaying the beginning of economic flights of Unity. “On the conclusion of this era, we count on that VSS Unity will start flying personal astronauts and SpaceShip III will probably be able to finish its flight testing, which we count on to be in early ’22,” Colglazier stated.
This newest delay appeared to alarm some analysts on the earnings name, however Colgalzier tried to downplay the schedule slip. “I don’t assume this can be a huge slip in any respect. I believe we’re pushing our flight eight to 9 weeks,” he stated. That eight to 9 weeks refers to delay from the beforehand scheduled Feb. 13 flight, however that flight is a repeat of a flight that was aborted in December.
Furthermore, Virgin Galactic has skilled years of delays in improvement and testing of SpaceShipTwo: greater than a decade, going again to unique pronouncements by Branson when he introduced the creation of Virgin Galactic in 2004 and its intent to leverage expertise developed by Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne, the suborbital spaceplane that received the $10 million Ansari X Prize that yr.
Analysts have been additionally fearful concerning the firm’s burn price, notably as Colglazier introduced extra tasks, comparable to improvement of a fourth-generation “Delta-class” model of the spaceplane and a brand new provider plane.
Colglazier declined to say when the corporate anticipated attaining break-even, however he famous the corporate was dropping about $60 million per quarter however had $666 million of money readily available as of the tip of 2020. “We’re well-capitalized,” he stated.
Nevertheless, Jon Campagna, Virgin Galactic’s outgoing chief monetary officer, stated the corporate can be “opportunistic about elevating capital to additional our strategic targets,” just like a secondary inventory providing the corporate carried out in 2020 that raised $441 million. Virgin Galactic introduced Feb. 25 that Campagna was leaving the corporate on the finish of the month, and that it had employed Doug Ahrens as its new chief monetary officer, efficient March 1.