Tag Archives: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic reports first loss since stock went public

Capitalism in space: Virgin Galactic today released its first quarterly report since the company’s stock went public in October, reporting a net loss of $51.5 million during the third quarter of 2019.

The stock initially opened in October at $12.93. It quickly dropped 25% in value, and has generally been trading at about $10 a share since. With today’s release the stock immediately dropped below $10, but it appears to have settled at around $9.75, for the moment.

According to this story, they presently have reservations from 600 people for suborbital flights, and have received “3,557 inquiries about flight reservations as of the end of September.”

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Virgin Galactic stock drops 25% since IPO on Monday

Capitalism in space: While this article focuses more on jabs taken by the head of British Airways against Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, it contains one tidbit of real note:

Shares in Virgin Galactic have fallen by more than a quarter since it went public at the start of the week, wiping more than $600m (£464m) off its value.

On Monday, the initial offering price for stock in Virgin Galactic was $12.93. At the moment it is trading in the mid-$9 dollar range, with the low earlier today of $9.09. Overall the stock lost about 25% of its value in a week, indicating properly that its value had been inflated by Branson and his partners in that initial offering.

But then, inflating the value of Virgin Galactic has been Richard Branson’s mode of operation since 2004 when he founded the company. I continue to wish the company success, but have become exceedingly skeptical about it.

And to change my mind the company is going to have to finally actually accomplish something, rather than make empty promises that never come true.

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Virgin Galactic stocks go public on October 28

Buyer beware: With the official completion of a merger of Virgin Galactic with the venture capital company Social Capital Hedosophia this week, it will be possible to buy stock in the company as early as Monday, October 28.

The space-tourism company run by billionaire Sir Richard Branson has been approved to merge with Social Capital Hedosophia, a venture capital firm that helps technology companies list on public markets, according to a Wednesday SEC filing from the company.

The merger is expected to close Friday. On Monday, Social Capital’s ticker, “IPOA,” will become Virgin Galactic’s, and trade under “SPCE.”

As I say, buyer beware. Virgin Galactic has spent fifteen years spending a lot of investment capital without achieving what it promised to do years ago, fly tourists on suborbital space flights. Along the way we’ve seen Richard Branson make a lot of exciting announcements about how he is about to fly in space, none of which ever happened. Instead, they crashed their spaceship, killing one pilot.

If you want to invest money in this company you should be aware of their so far poor track record.

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Boeing to buy $20 million minority stake in Virgin Galactic

HorizonX, a venture capital division of Boeing, today announced that it will purchase a $20 million minority stake in Virgini Galactic once the company goes public later this year.

Boeing’s venture arm HorizonX announced on Tuesday it will invest $20 million in Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic to help develop the technologies needed to make hypersonic air travel possible one day.

All I can say is I do not understand how Richard Branson can fool so many people for so long for so much, while delivering practically nothing.

Hat tip Robert Pratt of Pratt on Texas.

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Italy buys tickets on Virgin Galactic’s suborbital VSS Unity

Capitalism in space: Italy yesterday announced that it has purchased seats on Virgin Galactic’s suborbital VSS Unity for a research flight sometime in 2020.

The deal marks the first time a government has bought a ride on a private, suborbital space mission to conduct any kind of human-led experiments. The first research flight could take place as early as next year, the company said. “We’re delighted to work with the Italian Air Force to further space-based research and technology development through this historic mission,” Virgin’s chief executive, George Whitesides, said in a news release.

The contract announcement, plus the 2020 mission date, both lend some weight to Virgin Galactic’s recent claims that it will begin commercial operations next year. However, forgive me if I remain skeptical. Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson have been making promises like this for more than a decade, with none ever coming true.

Right now I will only believe it when they actually do it.

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Blue Origin hints at the New Shepard ticket price

Capitalism in space: For the first time a Blue Origin official has provided a very rough estimate of what the company will charge per ticket for someone to take a flight in its suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.

But today, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith hinted at a ballpark figure. “It’s going to not be cheap,” Smith said at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference.

Although he stressed that the price for passengers hasn’t yet been published, he indicated that Blue Origin now has a price range in mind. “Any new technology is never cheap, whether you’re talking about the first IBM computers or what we actually see today,” Smith said. “But it’ll be actually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for people to go, initially.”

Smith added that over time, “we’re going to get this down to the point where middle-class people” can afford a ticket to space. [emphasis mine]

This price sounds somewhat comparable to the prices being offered by Virgin Galactic. For the first people who had been willing to put down a deposit years ago they will pay $250K. Future buyers will pay more, at least at first.

Of course, neither company appears ready to put passengers on board, though both seem finally close and aiming for commercial flights no later than 2021. (Having said that, please don’t quote me, as I don’t really believe it, based on the endless delays coming from both companies.)

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Branson sells 49% of Virgin Galactic, stock to be publicly listed

Capitalism in space: Richard Branson has sold 49% of Virgin Galactic in a deal that will have the company’s stock publicly listed by the end of 2019.

The firm will list its shares as part of a merger deal with Social Capital Hedosophia, a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) created by venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya. Social Capital Hedosophia, formed by Palihapitiya’s Social Capital and venture capital firm Hedosophia in 2017, will invest $800 million for a 49% stake in the combined company. The firm will have an enterprise value of $1.5 billion, Virgin Galactic said.

…Branson’s space venture would be the first publicly-listed human spaceflight firm, with the stock market listing slated to take place in the second half of 2019.

Branson had been in talks with Palihapitiya since he suspended talks over a Saudi investment in his space companies last year. Riyadh had planned to invest a total of $1 billion into Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, which focuses on small satellites, but the deal fell through over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Branson was the person who said the Saudis backed out because of Khashoggi, but I personally do not believe that story. What I think happened was that, after 15 years of empty promises and no tourist flights, the Saudis suddenly realized that Virgin Galactic was a bad investment, and backed out. Branson now needs cash to keep the company afloat.

I am honestly unfamiliar with the ways of Wall Street. I do not know whether being “publicly listed” means the stock will be available for trade. If so, I expect the stock value to quickly plunge.

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Virgin Galactic to move flight operations to New Mexico

Capitalism in space: As promised more than a decade ago, Virgin Galactic yesterday announced that is finally going to move its SpaceShipTwo flight operations from Mohave to the Spaceport America facility in New Mexico this summer.

This fulfills Virgin’s original agreement with New Mexico, where the company agreed to base its commercial operations there if the state spent money to build the spaceport. The move is beginning now, but will mostly occur in the summer. It suggests the company might finally be getting ready to at last begin commercial tourist flights, only a decade-plus later than originally promised.

As is usual, Richard Branson made this a big public relations event. And as is usual, numerous press outlets have swooned over it. I remain very skeptical.

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Virgin Galactic’s Unity spacecraft completes 2nd test flight above 50 miles

Capitalism in space: Virgin Galactic’s Unity suborbital spacecraft today successfully completed its seconnd test flight above 50 miles, carrying a test passenger for the first time.

The vessel was ferried up attached to a larger plan called WhiteKnightTwo, dropped into the sky, and then taken up by rocket-powered engine to more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface just before 9 a.m. local time. It landed safely 15 minutes later. The company said VSS Unity hit Mach 3.04 and traveled to an altitude of 55.87 miles or 295,007 feet, faster and higher than any test flight yet for the vessel.

In addition to the two pilots, Unity carried a test passenger, Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor. Besides gathering data, she also unstrapped to experience weightlessness.

The link makes the false claim that this was the first time weightlessness was experienced in a commercial vehicle, even though numerous people have flown weightless on private “vomit comet” airplane flights.

It does appear that Virgin Galactic is finally, after fourteen years, getting close to that first ticketed tourist flight. It also looks possible that they will never quite reach 62 miles, the more commonly accepted definition for the beginnings of space.

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Bezos comparing New Shepard to SpaceShipTwo: “No asterisks.”

Capitalism in space: During an event yesterday, Blue Origin’s owner Jeff Bezos made it a point to note the superior launch capabilities of Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard spacecraft over Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

Bezos, in the interview, pointed out the altitude difference between the two vehicles. New Shepard has typically exceeded 100 kilometers, an altitude known as the Karman Line, on its test flights. SpaceShipTwo reached a peak altitude of 82.7 kilometers on its most recent test flight Dec. 13, its first above the 50-mile boundary used by U.S. government agencies to award astronaut wings. “One of the issues that Virgin Galactic will have to address, eventually, is that they are not flying above the Karman Line, not yet,” Bezos said. “I think one of the things they will have to figure out how to get above the Karman Line.”

“We’ve always had as our mission that we wanted to fly above the Karman Line, because we didn’t want there to be any asterisks next to your name about whether you’re an astronaut or not,” he continued. “That’s something they’re going to have to address, in my opinion.”

For those who fly on New Shepard, he said, there’ll be “no asterisks.”

Bezos also indicated that he is increasingly hopeful that the first manned test flights of New Shepard will occur this year.

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Branson seeks new capital for Virgin Galactic/Orbit

Capitalism in space: Apparently short of cash because of his cancellation of a $1 billion investment space deal with Saudi Arabia, Richard Branson has hired a finance firm to find him new capital for his two space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

Sources said this weekend that Sir Richard was seeking funding that would value Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, which launches satellites for commercial customers, at a combined sum of well over $2bn (£1.55bn).

The precise amount that he is looking to raise has yet to be determined, but people close to the process suggested it would be at least $250m (£193m), representing a minority stake.

The structure of a deal could see new shareholders injecting money into either, or both, Virgin-branded space companies.

I will not be surprised if Branson gets the investment capital for Virgin Orbit. I will also not be surprised if he has trouble finding anyone willing to invest a lot in Virgin Galactic. In fact, this shortage in capital might spell the end of this fourteen year effort at building a reusable spacecraft designed to provide suborbital tourism.

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Virgin Galactic lays off 40 workers

Capitalism in space: Virgin Galactic earlier in January laid off 40 workers, saying it was in preparation for moving their launch operations to New Mexico where they will be doing their commercial flights.

This is about 5% of their payroll, so at first glance it does not appear to be a significant number. Yet, if they were about to move to commercial operations I would think their payroll would grow, not shrink.

The article itself buys into the company’s tediously overworn sales pitch (that they have been pushing for more than a decade) that they are about to start commercial operations, flying paying tourists, but this is just not credible. For example, as part of this sales pitch they made a big deal about hiring Under Armour to make the flight suits for their flights. Yet, no designs have been released, even though Virgin Galactic has been working on doing commercial tourist flights for more than fourteen years. Only now they realize they need flight suits?

In 2017 I predicted that Virgin Orbit would fly a commercial flight before Virgin Galactic, even though Orbit only started to seriously build its rocket in 2015, about a dozen years after Galactic got started. I stand by that prediction, which I expect will prove true this year.

At the time I also predicted that Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceship will never make orbital space, defined by practically everyone since around 1970 to be 67 miles elevation, or 100 kilometers. I also stand by that prediction, because only just before Unity’s flight to barely 50 miles did the issue of the definition of space reappear after almost a half century. Virgin Galactic has been pushing to get the definition changed because their spacecraft probably cannot get to 67 miles.

I just wish reporters would stop buying into Branson’s sales pitch. Show some skepticism, damn it. Your job isn’t to be a public relations agent for him.

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Virgin Galactic finally reaches space, by one definition

Capitalism in space: By one of the definitions of where space begins, Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo Unity finally reached space for the first time during a test flight today.

During a flight test today, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo burned its engine for 60 seconds and reached an altitude of 271,268 (51.37 miles/82.7 km), which put the vehicle into space for the first time according to one definition of the boundary.

Pilots C.J. Sturkow and Mark Stucky deployed the spacecraft’s feather system — twin tail booms that re-configure the ship for re-entry — after reaching a top speed of Mach 2.9. They glided the vehicle back to a safe landing on Runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California’s High Desert.

The U.S military initially defined space as beginning at 50 miles altitude. Later the international definition defining space as beginning at 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) became more accepted. In recent years there has been a push to accept the U.S. military’s older definition (partly I think generated by Virgin Galactic itself). Truth is, the U.S. military’s definition actually makes more sense, since it is possible to orbit a satellite at 50 miles, for short periods.

The pressure to change however does suggest that Unity might not be capable of reaching 62 miles.

Regardless, this flight culminates fourteen years of effort at Richard Branson s company to produce a reusable suborbital spaceship that can fly in space. It appears they have finally done it. Whether it will be reliable enough to fly repeatedly, with commercial passengers, remains to be seen. Moreover, the commercial landscape has changed considerably during those fourteen years. Had they flown a decade ago, as Branson repeatedly predicted, they would have been the only game in town. That is no longer the case. They now have a competitor, Blue Origin with its suborbital New Shepard spaceship, and affordable commercial orbital flights are just around the corner.

Still, Virgin Galactic’s achievement here is significant. They have built a spaceship that has taken humans to space (and can do it again), and they have done it with private funds.

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Branson suspends negotiations with Saudi Arabia

Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson today announced that he is suspending negotiations with Saudi Arabia’s investment funds because of their involvement in the disappearance and possible murder of a journalist in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government,” Branson said in a statement.

It was expected that Saudi Arabia was going to invest about a billion dollars in Branson’s space companies, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

Branson has also suspended his directorship in two Saudi tourism projects.

I must wonder if what really has happened is that the Saudi’s were becoming reluctant to commit funds to Branson because of the lack of success at Virgin Galactic, and Branson is therefore providing himself cover for the failure of the negotiations by claiming it was he that pulled out, for different reasons.

At the same time, what happened to Khashoggi might justify Branson’s actions.

He had an appointment at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect some documents he needed to marry his Turkish fiancee — a certificate showing that he was divorced from his first wife. He entered the consulate on Oct. 2 at 1:14 p.m., asking his fiancee to wait outside for him. She did. Until 2 a.m. He never emerged.

A number of news outlets, citing Turkish sources, are reporting that Jamal Khashoggi, the former editor of a Saudi newspaper, regime critic and Washington Post contributor, was murdered. The New York Times quoted sources who said that 15 Saudi agents from the security services, including one autopsy expert, entered Turkey that same day on two chartered flights. They departed that evening. The Saudis claim that Khashoggi left the consulate an hour after he arrived and have no idea what became of him. The Turks would like to send a forensic team inside, but the Saudis have refused.

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Virgin Galactic’s Unity successfully completes powered test flight

Capitalism in space: Virgin Galactic’s Unity spacecraft today successfully completed its third powered test flight, reaching an altitude of 170,800 feet, or about 32 miles.

Though this is a record flight for any of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwos, this elevation is still about half that reached by Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital capsule, and is considerably below the presently accepted international definition for space, which is 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles. It is getting close to the line accepted by the U.S. Air Force, 50 miles, and now being pushed by some as a better line for the beginnings of space.

Regardless, this success is good news for Virgin Galactic, as it indicates they might finally be getting close to commercial flights, after fourteen years of development.

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First SpaceshipTwo powered flight since accident

Capitalism in space? Virgin Galactic today successfully completed the first powered test flight of VSS Unity, the first such test flight since the flight accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed on pilot in October 2014.

VSS Unity was dropped from its WhiteKnightTwo mothership from about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters) over the mountains about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Pilots David Mackay and Mark “Forger” Stucky fired Unity’s hybrid engine for 30 seconds, boosting the vehicle to a top speed of Mach 1.87 and a maximum altitude of 84,271 feet (25,686 m) before gliding back to the runway at the spaceport, Virgin Galactic representatives said.

During the descent, the crew deployed SpaceShipTwo’s feather system, which reconfigures the ship into a high-drag shuttlecock by moving its twin tail booms. The feather will be used to soften the vehicle’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere during spaceflight.

They say that they hope to begin commercial flights later this year, but I remain exceedingly skeptical.

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VSS Unity completes 7th glide test

Capitalism in space: Virgin Galactic’s Unity suborbital spaceship completed 7th glide test today.

I must admit that I am only reporting this because I feel obligated to. This was their first flight in five months, and they have still not done a powered flight. I cannot get excited about Virgin Galactic and SpaceshipTwo until I actually see them reach space, something they have still not accomplished after fourteen years of development.

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Virgin Galactic signs deal with Italy for dedicated research flight

Yawn. Virgin Galactic has announced that it has signed a deal with Italy for a future SpaceShipTwo research flight.

I feel obliged to report this, but am also very skeptical about it. They have still not performed any powered flights with their new ship, Unity. And their last glide test was four months ago. They state that they will have a full test flight program in 2018, but we have heard that story so many times before we’d all be silly to believe them now.

When they start flying, I will start taking them seriously again. Not before.

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Saudi Arabia to invest $1 billion in Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit

Capitalism in space: Saudi Arabia and Virgin have signed a non-binding agreement for Saudi Arabia to invest $1 billion in Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

I’m not sure what to make of this press release. The agreement is clearly called “non-binding,” which means Saudi Arabia is not obliged to provide any funds. At the same time, the deal appears to shift power and control of the two Virgin companies to the Arab country, which if successful (a big “if”) would also quickly give Saudi Arabia both a manned and smallsat launching capability.

Why they chose Virgin appears at first baffling, considering that company’s repeated inability to achieve any of its promises. It could be, however, that Richard Branson’s funds are drying up, and that he needed this deal to keep both companies afloat. Saudi Arabia thus saw an opportunity and grabbed it.

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First Flight

The last part in Doug Messier’s series on the commercial aviation/space history, First Flight, is now available.

Messier brings his history of Virgin Galactic up to the present, and then compares their efforts to build a reusable suborbital spacecraft with that of Blue Origin and its New Shepard design. For Virgin Galactic, the comparison does not reflect well upon them. While fourteen years have passed since the company began its so far unsuccessful effort to reach suborbital space, Blue Origin has already done it multiple times, with a reusable ship. And it took Blue Origin about half the time to make that happen.

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One Chute

Part 4 of Doug Messier’s series on commercial space history, A Niche in Time, is now available. It is entitled “One Chute” and focuses on the long and sad history of Virgin Galactic.

One new detail that Messier notes struck me:

At the time of the accident, Virgin Galactic had about 700 customers signed up to fly on SpaceShipTwo. Officials now say the number is around 650. Assuming full ships with six passengers aboard, Virgin Galactic would need 109 flights just to fly out its current manifest. The figure doesn’t include flight tests and missions filled with microgravity experiments. That’s a lot of launches to make without expecting at least one catastrophic failure, possibly involving prominent wealthy passengers.

It increasingly appears that this will be a total loss for the investors who poured money into Virgin Galactic.

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VSS Unity completes fifth glide flight

Virgin Galactic’s new suborbital ship, VSS Unity, successfully made its fifth unpowered glide test flight today.

VSS Unity’s glide flights have gone well, and as a result, Virgin Galactic is getting ready to transition to the next part of the test campaign, company representatives said. “To that end, as we analyze the data from today’s flight, we will be moving into a period of ground-based activity focused on preparation for fueled, and then powered, flights,” they wrote in the description.

They provided no indication of exactly when those next flights will occur, which considering the company’s past record of failed predictions, is definitely a good thing.

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Suborbital promises

Capitalism in space: Two stories today highlight the contrasts that presently exist within the still unborn suborbital tourist industry:

In the first, Richard Branson made another one of his bold predictions, the same kind of prediction he has been making about Virgin Galactic now for almost a decade. Again and again he claims, based on nothing, that his spaceship will be carrying people into orbit in mere months. It never happens. It won’t happen here.

In the second, Jeff Bezos announces that he hopes to fly people on his New Shepard suborbital spacecraft by 2018, but at the same time he also announces that the program is delayed.

Bezos, speaking in front of the company’s exhibit at the 33rd Space Symposium here that features the New Shepard propulsion module that flew five suborbital spaceflights in 2015 and 2016, backed away from earlier statements that called for flying people on test flights later this year. “We’re going to go through the test program, and we’ll put humans on it when we’re happy,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be 2017 at this point. It could be.”

Bezos has been very careful, from the beginning, to make no bold or specific predictions about when his spacecraft will fly manned. Here, he is once again making it clear that any previously announced schedules were very tentative, and should not be taken too seriously.

Which person would you trust with your life on a suborbital flight?

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Virgin Galactic spins off LauncherOne into its own division

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic this week spun off its LauncherOne smallsat orbital rocket to form a new company called Virgin Orbit.

This split highlights the competition that actually existed within Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo remains a very questionable design. Rather than have its problems suck the profits from LauncherOne, which has contracts and I firmly believe will fly first, the Virgin corporation has pulled it from Virgin Galactic so that the two rockets can succeed or fail on their own. In the end, I suspect now that Virgin Galactic will die and Virgin Orbit will succeed.

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Unity completes third glide test

The competition heats up? Virgin Galactic’s new SpaceShipTwo, Unity, successfully completed its third glide test on February 24.

I must admit that I cannot get excited by this event. Until Virgin Galactic flies this ship with its engines and puts it through a full suborbital flight, I remain completely skeptical about its capabilities.

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Testing of Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne first stage engine

The competition heats up: This week Virgin Galactic’s successfully completed a long duration static fire test of the first stage engine of its LauncherOne smallsat rocket.

I predict that LauncherOne will fly its first commercial flight before Unity, the company’s second SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, and it will do it multiple times. In fact, right now I firmly believe that Unity is never going to reach suborbital space, as they have designed it for an engine that simply doesn’t work, and can’t figure out how to redesign it to solve the problem.

LauncherOne meanwhile has at least one launch contract, and is being designed with a workable engine, right from the start.

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