Virgin Galactic blames coronavirus restrictions as it delays space flight

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Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. (NYSE:SPCE) has pushed back the date of a planned space flight due to new coronavirus restrictions.

The space tourism company had scheduled a sub-orbital space flight of its VSS Unity space plane for some time between this Thursday, November 19 and next Monday, November 23.

READ: How to invest in space stocks via ETFs

But after the New Mexico health department issued new guidelines about limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Virgin Galactic said it will be “minimizing its operational footprint” at its New Mexico facilities and, after checking with local government officials, the planned flight will be rescheduled.

“With the health and safety of our team members in mind, and in accordance with the recent direction from the New Mexico Department of Health, we will be minimizing our New Mexico operations to the greatest degree possible,” said Virgin Galactic chief executive Michael Colglazier.

“While these new restrictions cause us to adjust our flight schedule, we take this pause in stride and will be prepared to resume our pre-flight procedures and announce a new test flight window as soon as we can.”

The planned November flight was to be the first human spaceflight from the company’s Spaceport America base in New Mexico and it was due to include revenue-generating research payloads as part of Nasa’s flight opportunities program.

Since our last flight to space, we’ve refined and upgraded a few other elements on the spaceship and we are now ready to test them on a rocket-powered flight. pic.twitter.com/FZvlbdFdj0

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) November 2, 2020

When it does eventually take off, it will be the first time in flight where the spacecraft actively reclines its passenger seats once in space, which will be tested by mannequins strapped in for this test.

According to the company’s quarterly results earlier this month, it has roughly 600 fully paid up ‘future astronauts’ registered as of October 31, but said it will close its ‘One Small Step’ programme at the end of the calendar year with a further 900 or so potential customers signed up so far to the scheme where a fully refundable registration fee of US$1,000 reserves you a place on a space flight when one becomes available. 

For the third quarter of 2020 Virgin Galactic made a net loss of US$77mln compared to US$63mln in the second quarter, and had a cash position of US$742mln at the end of September.

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