Another delay for Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceflight launch

New timeline for first paying passenger space flights

Virgin Galactic has pushed back the expected launch date of commercial spaceflights until Q4 2022. The aerospace company had most recently had its hopes pinned on a Q3 2022 start.

The latest delay is the result of a fast-tracked enhancement program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity, which will see the ‘Unity 23’ test flight postponed until the work is complete. Virgin Galactic’s ‘Unity 23’ test flight, to be operated in partnership with the Italian Air Force Research Mission, had been slated for mid-October.

The enhancement program centres around vehicle reliability, durability and reduced maintenance when in commercial service, and is designed to improve vehicle performance and flight-rate capability for VMS Eve and VSS Unity.

Virgin Galactic's Unity 22 space flight

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“Given the time required for this effort, the Company has determined the most efficient and expedient path to commercial service is to complete this work now in parallel with the planned enhancement program,” Virgin Galactic said.

Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer, said: “Virgin Galactic vehicles are designed with significant margins for safety, providing layers of protection that far exceed loads experienced and expected to occur on our flights. The re-sequencing of our enhancement period and the Unity 23 flight underscores our safety-first procedures, provides the most efficient path to commercial service, and is the right approach for our business and our customers.”

Touchdown of VSS Unity back at Spaceport America following Unity 22 space flight

Virgin emphasised that the schedule update is unrelated to the Company’s recent inquiry into a potential defect in a supplier component which has been successfully resolved.

The enhancement period is now beginning approximately one month later than anticipated, and commercial service is now expected to commence in Q4 2022.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic’s former head of the test pilot program, Mark “Forger” Stucky – who was reportedly fired in July – has joined Blue Origin, the primary competitor of Virgin Galactic. More here.

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