Capitalism in space: On the same day that Virgin Galactic unveiled a $130 million loss in its first quarter report, it also announced that it might have to delay the next flight of its Unity suborbital spacecraft because of an undisclosed “wear-and-tear issue” on its carrier airplane.
From the second link:
[Mike Moses, president of space missions and safety], in response to later questions from analysts, did not disclose the specific component of the aircraft that was at the heart of the issue, but described it as a “family of items that relate to fatigue and long-term stress” of the airplane. It was not an issue with the number of flights of VMS Eve, which first flew in 2008 and has made fewer than 300 flights since.
Engineers are currently examining the plane to determine if additional maintenance is needed now to correct that problem, with an update expected next week. Virgin Galactic had planned to perform work on the plane this fall during a downtime that would also include work on VSS Unity, but Moses said engineers are now looking at whether some of that work needs to be moved up.
If maintenance is needed now, it would delay the schedule of flight tests for SpaceShipTwo, but Moses said it was “a little too early” to know how long that would be.
They had previously announced that the next flight would be in May. They will decide in the next week whether to delay it.
Meanwhile, the company’s stock price continues to tumble, dropping from a high of about $62 earlier this year to a low of about $14 today. And I would say that the price is still over-priced. The path to profit for Virgin Galactic has become extremely narrow, with few options and not much margin, especially with Blue Origin now only two months away from its first commercial suborbital tourist flight.
Richard Branson started Virgin Galactic shortly after the SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004, promising hundreds of commercial passenger flights per year in only a few years. Seventeen years later no such flights have ever occurred. Worse, not only will Blue Origin likely do the first commercial suborbital flight first, SpaceX and Axiom are likely to complete the first orbital tourism flights before Virgin Galactic.
No harm to Branson however. He has sold off most of his stock in the company, and did it when its price was still high.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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