Virgin Galactic set to return to earth after rocket fails to reach space

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Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc (NYSE:SPCE) faces more delays in its mission to take the public on paid spaceflights after its manned rocket misfired in a flight test over the weekend.

The stock was down 15% at US$27.33 in pre-market trading on Monday.

SpaceShip2, the space tourism company’s latest craft, failed to reach space after a rocket motor did not fire due as the ignition sequence did not fire properly, the New York-listed company said in a statement on Monday.

There was no news of the next test flight window in the schedule and analysts said there could be several weeks of delays as Virgin Galactic conducts post-flight analysis.

So far, the New Mexico-based group said the onboard computer lost connection, which triggered a fail-safe scenario that halted ignition of the rocket motor.

All the spaceship’s system are designed so that they default to a safe state whenever power or communication with sensors is lost, Virgin Galactic said.

Following the post-flight analysis, the next step would be a repeat of this test flight, with two pilots and NASA payloads, followed by another test flight that include mission specialists in the cabin.

After those two flights, there will be test flight which will include our founder, Sir Richard Branson. We look forward to sharing information on our next flight window in the near future.”

Looking for the positives, chief executive officer Michael Colglazier said the system is “purposely designed to enable our pilots to safely glide back to the Spaceport at any point during the flight profile.

“Seeing firsthand how our pilots brought Unity in for a picture perfect landing after an off-nominal condition confirmed this approach. I am even more confident that this is the level of safety that consumers will want and will be expecting from us.”

Analysts at UBS said the rocket misfire “will create another delay in the program, which we’d size in weeks without more info”.

They said if the vehicle’s rocket motor was the problem the normal turnaround time for the SpaceShip2 could be four days to inspect, remove and replace, but with other anomalies it might “a few weeks”.

After the shares surged in recent weeks in anticipated of the test flight, UBS expected a “rocky Monday”.

The analysts said failure to reach orbit “importantly validated safe failure modes for a rocket misfire, which likely won’t make the market feel better Monday but is actually an important validation of safety of the architecture”.

  

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