Investing in Space

Virgin Galactic shares jump after next spaceflight test is set for Saturday

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Key Points
  • Virgin Galactic stock jumped after the space tourism company announced its next spaceflight test is targeting Saturday.
  • "Following a detailed inspection and thorough analysis of our mothership, Eve, we have cleared our Spaceflight System for our upcoming flight," Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said.
  • The company hopes to begin commercial service in 2022.

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Virgin Galactic's spacecraft Unity fires its rocket engine and heads to space on Feb. 22, 2019.
Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic stock jumped in Thursday trading after the space tourism company announced its next spaceflight test is targeting Saturday, following the completion of a maintenance review of its carrier aircraft.

The stock had been getting hit on concerns Virgin Galactic would delay the test from this month. A delay would have compounded issues that have put the stock under pressure in recent months, including increased competition from Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

"Following a detailed inspection and thorough analysis of our mothership, Eve, we have cleared our Spaceflight System for our upcoming flight," Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement.

Shares of Virgin Galactic surged as much as 25% in early trading, but then dipped on heavy trading volume to finish the day up 14.7% at $19.81.

Virgin Galactic's carrier aircraft releases its spacecraft Unity during a glide flight test.
Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic leadership, when the company reported first-quarter results last week, revealed that the target date for the next spaceflight test was under evaluation due to a possible maintenance issue with VMS Eve, the aircraft that carries the spacecraft before launch. The company said Thursday its engineering analysis determined the VMS Eve "structures healthy," clearing the aircraft for flight.

The company is working to complete development of its SpaceShipTwo system, with four test flights remaining before Virgin Galactic begins commercial service in 2022.

Virgin Galactic attempted the first of those four tests in December, but the mission was cut short by an engine problem. The company scheduled a repeat of the flight attempt for February, but then delayed to May to give more time to address an electromagnetic interference issue with the spacecraft's flight computer.

This upcoming spaceflight test will fly with just the two pilots and will carry microgravity research payloads under NASA's Flight Opportunities program. In addition to resolving the issue that aborted the December attempt, Virgin Galactic said this flight test will further evaluate its customer cabin and test a livestream from onboard the spacecraft.

"We view this is as highly positive, as it reestablishes a testing schedule that could allow commercial passenger flights to begin by early 2022," Bernstein analyst Douglas Harned wrote in a note to investors.

The company cautioned that Saturday's attempt is dependent on final technical checks of the hardware and weather around Spaceport America in New Mexico.

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Virgin Galactic's stock was down 27% year to date as of Wednesday's close, after shares soared above $60 in February. Its stock losses accelerated over the past two months after the test delays, as well as share sales by Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya, founder Richard Branson, and Cathie Wood's new space ETF.

The stock also fell after Bezos' Blue Origin announced plans for a July 20 launch of the first crewed flight of its space tourism rocket, a move UBS warned likely removes Virgin Galactic's first-mover advantage.

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