Branson's Virgin Galactic faces new space flight delay

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Virgin Spaceship Unity and Virgin Mothership Eve take to the skies on their first captive carry flight on 8 September 2016 - Virgin Galactic 
Virgin Spaceship Unity and Virgin Mothership Eve take to the skies on their first captive carry flight on 8 September 2016 - Virgin Galactic

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is set to delay its latest flight to space yet again in a new setback to the billionaire’s plans to send tourists into space.

The company said on Monday that it was “currently re-evaluating launch timing” for its next test flight after discovering a possible “wear and tear” issue on VMS Eve, the plane that carries its spacecraft into the air before it launches into space.

It had previously said it would carry out its next test flight this month, before further test flights involving its staff and Sir Richard himself later in the year. It is unclear when the first commercial flights will take place.

Around 600 prospective tourists have waited more than a decade, paying up to $250,000 (£177,000) per ticket, to travel into sub-orbital space on Galactic’s flights.

Sir Richard founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, and the company started selling tickets in 2005, but the company has faced repeated delays and setbacks, most notably a fatal test flight in 2014.

VSS Unity being released from carrier plane VMS Eve - AP
VSS Unity being released from carrier plane VMS Eve - AP

Two years ago, the company went public in New York, it said it expected to send tourists into space as early as 2020.

Virgin Galactic said it had addressed an electromagnetic interference issue with its VSS Unity spacecraft that led to previous delays but that it had identified a new issue last week during a routine test of VSS Eve. It said it was unclear when it would be able to resume test flights, but that it would provide an update next week on its launch schedule.

Galactic’s shares have fallen by more than 70pc since a peak in February, meaning Sir Richard’s 24pc stake has lost around $2.4 billion in value. The company’s chairman, Chamath Palihapitiya, sold around $213m worth of shares in March.

Virgin Galactic said it had made a $130m loss in the first quarter of 2020. The company had no revenue as it awaits its first commercial operations.

Shares fell by more than 8pc in after-hours trading, having already declined by 8.5pc. The company is racing against Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to send tourists into space. Blue Origin said last week it was auctioning a seat on a flight due to take place in July.