Galactic confirmed it will fly at least three more missions in its existing VSS Unity before retiring the model next year. It came alongside the company announcing it would cut 185 jobs, or nearly a fifth of its workforce, to facilitate the change to the “Delta Class” spaceships.
Michael Colglazier, Virgin Galactic’s chief executive, said the space tourism firm had already learned what it needed about spaceflight over its previous five monthly missions that flew between June and November this year.
“Unity’s flight objectives are to demonstrate our system, showcase our astronaut experience, and provide learnings for our Delta program,” he said.
“The total costs to support Unity’s flights surpass the relatively modest monthly revenues.
“The big move we’re making here is pivoting the resources that have been put into the Unity flights and redirecting them over to get the Delta ships done with the cash we have on hand.”
When Unity is formally retired, company staff who worked at Spaceport America in New Mexico will move to a new factory near Phoenix.
Test flights for the Delta Class vehicles, which can carry up to six passengers rather than four, will begin in 2025.
Galactic’s breakthrough moment came when founder Richard Branson beat off competition from Jeff Bezos to be the first to go to space in 2021.
However, the business then subsequently had to carry out maintenance for both its mothership aircraft, VMS Eve, and its SpaceShipTwo vehicle. It only resumed flights earlier this year.
Rival Blue Origin then had its own pause following a failure on a payload flight in September last year.
In 2023, though, Virgin pulled ahead and flew its first private tourist flight in August and completed its fifth commercial suborbital mission on 2 November.
The good news comes after sister company Virgin Orbit admitted defeat in its battle to find a rescue deal and said it would cease all operations. It had been hoping to launch from Toowoomba in Queensland next year.
Virgin Orbit agreed to sell all of its assets, including its rocket-launching 747, to four winning bidders for just $36 million – barely 1 per cent of the company’s valuation in 2021.
Its demise followed the failure of its landmark launch in Cornwall, south-west England, in January.
ELA executive chairman Michael Jones told Space Connect he believes Virgin Orbit’s rocket-launch system was not as reliable as it seemed.
Jones, who is also the founder of Australian airline Rex, said there’s “a lot of complexity that doesn’t appear to be there” and hinted traditional vertical blast-offs are more successful.
“It sounds great, but it’s a challenging thing they’re doing,” he said.
“We track about 76 rocket companies globally. That’s a mixture of vertical, which is about 90 per cent of the market, and horizontal, which is a further 7 per cent. I think about 25 of those are ‘real’.
“And by that, I mean real in their financial capacity, technology, and having a business plan for a successful solution.”
Of the 25 remaining in his system, he predicts only 11 will survive.
Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.
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