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What’s in the pipeline for Virgin Galactic in space flight

During the third quarter earnings conference call, the space tourism company’s management elaborated on the firm’s goals for the upcoming quarters. And needless to say, things are getting exciting for space enthusiasts.

There wasn’t anything unexpected or surprising on the financials side when Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE) reported third-quarter results on Thursday. There were no material revenues, and losses had accumulated more than the prior year, driven by elevated costs and pandemic-related delays.

But then, it’s too early to merit the firm based on its financials. The true potential lies in Virgin’s ambitious goal of taking tourists to the edge of space and back – in one piece. The Richard Branson-led company is currently at an interesting juncture of transition from R&D to production and commercialization. And the management provided updates on what to expect in the coming quarters.  

virgin galactic Q3 2020 earnings

Following the two successful glide flights as part of its testing program, Virgin has three test flights scheduled from its Spaceport in New Mexico. After much delay, the first of this is expected to take place sometime between November 19 and November 23. This flight will have two pilots, as well as three NASA payloads, as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.

The payload transfer is expected to generate some modest revenues for Virgin during the quarter. Responding to a question from Morgan Stanley analyst, CFO Jonathan Campagna said:

“The best way to look at that is it’s probably in the sort of $400,000 range for the payloads, and there’s three NASA payloads that will be on that flight that we have planned for later this month.”

During this flight, cabin hardware including its reclining seats will be inspected by strapping mannequins to it. Separately, the downlink hardware and cabin cameras, which will be used to live stream the flights, will also undergo extensive testing. Importantly, the flight is likely to contribute to Virgin’s FAA commercial license application.    

The November test will be followed by a second rocket-powered flight with a full cabin of mission specialists, in addition to the pilot, which will take place around the latter half of Q1 2021. During this mission, the weightless experience in the live stream system, as well as the cabin interior hardware will be inspected by a space flight specialist.

The third test, also scheduled for the first quarter of next year, will carry Sir Richard Branson himself. Once this is successfully completed, Virgin would once again open sales for its space tourism program. Virgin has so far sold approximately 600 tickets at around $200,000 to $250,000 apiece. Separately, around 900 people have joined its “One Small Step” program, making deposits towards tickets.

Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier stated that the company’s long-term target is to fly 400 flights per year per Spaceport, generating revenues of $1 billion a year per Spaceport. He added:

And a fully utilized Spaceport can create an incredibly powerful economic engine, an engine that will come first in New Mexico, but also an engine that should have great appeal across other locations in the world.”

SPCE shares have gained 59% since the beginning of this year.

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