Virgin Galactic shares plummet after company says it will delay commercial spaceflights until Q4 2022

vms eve mothership double-body plane carries vss unity rocket plane in flight
The VMS Eve carries VSS Unity (in the plane’s center) into the skies.

  • Virgin Galactic said Thursday it has delayed its commercial spaceflights until Q4 2022.
  • The delay is not connected to a recent probe by the FAA, which cleared the company to fly.
  • Virgin’s stock dropped 14% after hours following its announcement the new timeline.

Virgin Galactic said in a press release Thursday that it will delay the start of its commercial spaceflight operations until the fourth quarter of 2022.

Virgin had planned to launch its first commercial test flight, Unity 23, in October, but the company said testing results of new materials prompted it to make changes to its timeline.

“Recent laboratory-based tests flagged a possible reduction in the strength margins of certain materials used to modify specific joints, and this requires further physical inspection,” Virgin said.

The company said that while the test results didn’t impact any of its vehicles, it plans to undertake “further analysis” to determine whether any additional work will be required to ensure the vehicles meet all “strength margin” requirements.

As a result, Virgin said it decided that the “most efficient and expedient path to commercial service” is to begin its “enhancement program” – which could take up to 10 months, Virgin told CNBC – before Unity 23 flight, and continue its testing in parallel.

Virgin said the delay is not related to the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent investigation into the company following a mishap that occurred during Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson’s flight in July. The FAA cleared Virgin to fly again in September.

Virgin’s stock tumbled more than 14% after the market closed Thursday following its announcement.

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Here’s how you can get paid $6,800 – plus free doughnuts – to binge-watch all 706 episodes of ‘The Simpsons’

the simpsons renewed seasons 31 32
“The Simpsons” has a scarily accurate ability to predict future events.

  • A company will pay an analyst $6,800 for eight weeks to binge-watch 706 episodes of “The Simpsons.”
  • “The Simpsons” has accurately predicted future events, like the election of Donald Trump.
  • The analyst will make note of important events in the show that may happen in the future.

Your binge-watching habits might finally pay off, now that one company is hiring an analyst to watch all 706 episodes of the TV classic “The Simpsons.”

“It’s a well-known phenomenon that The Simpsons has predicted major life events, and in our industry we too like to predict what the future has in store for us,” the online casino company, Platin Casino, said. “The Simpsons Series Analyst will get paid to note down standout events from the show, to help us predict the probability of each one happening.”

“The Simpsons” has developed a reputation for being able to accurately predict future events, including the election of Donald Trump, billionaire Richard Branson’s voyage into space, and the discovery of the Higgs boson equation.

The analyst will receive $6,800 and a free weekly box of doughnuts to work 35-hour weeks for 8 weeks watching the show as well as the spinoff, “The Simpsons Movie.”

Platin Casino did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

“During each episode the professional will be asked to take notes on stand out storylines to feedback to us and our team of prediction experts. We will then compile the events into a list of future predictions with a probability of each one happening,” the casino company said.

Similar to many jobs during the pandemic, this one is remote-friendly with flexible hours, but requires a laptop or TV, strong writing skills, and fluency in English.

“And of course, a love for The Simpsons is desirable,” the company said.

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Virgin Galactic soars after FAA says company can resume flights following mishap probe

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

Shares of Virgin Galactic soared on Thursday after the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the space tourism startup to operate flights once again following a probe of Richard Branson’s high-profile trip in July.

Virgin Galactic’s stock price rose 9% from its Wednesday close of $22.56.

The aviation regulator on September 2 grounded the company – sending its shares tumbling more than 7% – after a piece by The New Yorker alleged that the company’s rocket ships went off-course on its way back to earth and failed to communicate the mishap to the aviation regulator.

“The investigation found the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicle deviated from its assigned airspace on its descent from space,” the agency said in a statement. “The FAA also found Virgin Galactic failed to communicate the deviation to the FAA as required.

The agency said it required Virgin Galactic to implement changes and allowed it to resume flight operations once the required amended protocols have been put in place.

Virgin Galactic said the corrective actions proposed by the FAA were executed beginning August 11. These include updating calculations to expand the protected airspace for future flights.

The widely-watched flight carried billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, and five others, taking off from a facility in New Mexico.

The plane, The New Yorker reported, did not shoot to space steeply enough, causing it to deviate from its approved flight path on its way back down to Earth. While the two pilots, Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci, were able to correct the error and land safely, they flew outside their airspace clearance zone for one minute and 41 seconds.

“We appreciate the FAA’s thorough review of this inquiry,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement. “The updates to our airspace and real-time mission notification protocols will strengthen our preparations as we move closer to the commercial launch of our spaceflight experience.”

Following FAA’s clearance, Virgin Galactic can now push through with its space mission with the Italian airforce called “Unity 23.” It was initially slated for September or early October. It’s now been pushed to mid-October at the earliest because of a possible manufacturing defect.

Shares of Virgin Galactic have swung wildly in the past 12 months, jumping to as high as $62.80, and sinking as low as $14.27.

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Virgin Galactic says its space mission with the Italian Air Force is delayed due to a possible manufacturing flaw

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

  • Virgin Galactic rescheduled a commercial research test flight over a potential manufacturing defect.
  • The possible flaw was unrelated to the FAA’s investigation of its rocket plane, the company said.
  • Virgin pushed its space mission with the Italian Air Force back to mid-October at the earliest.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic said on Friday that its first commercial research mission with the Italian Air Force would be delayed because of a possible manufacturing defect.

The spaceflight company said that during groundwork, a third-party supplier flagged a potential defect in a component of the flight-control system they provided.

“At this point, it is not yet known whether the defect is present in the company’s vehicles and what, if any, repair work may be needed,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

The company said it’s conducting a vendor inspection, which was part of Virgin Galactic’s usual safety procedures.

The mission, named “Unity 23,” was initially slated for September or early October. It’s now been pushed to mid-October at the earliest.

Virgin said the spaceflight would carry three paying crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council to conduct research relevant to current and future spaceflight systems and technologies.

The Federal Aviation Authority was investigating the rocket ship that Branson took to the edge of space on July 11 – called Unity 22 – saying it went outside its clearance zone while returning. Shares in Virgin Galactic tumbled 7% after the FAA’s announcement earlier this month.

The FAA investigation wasn’t related to the now-delayed space mission, Virgin said.

“Our test flight processes and procedures are rigorous and structured to identify and resolve these types of issues,” Michael Colglazier, Virgin Galactic’s CEO, said in a statement. “We look forward to taking to the skies again soon.”

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Virgin Galactic slips after the FAA says the company is grounded pending an investigation into a mishap during Branson’s trip to space

Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic, poses for photographs before ringing a ceremonial bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to promote the first day of trading of Virgin Galactic Holdings shares on October 28, 2019 in New York City.
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on October 28, 2019.

  • Virgin Galactic tumbled after the FAA announced that its flights are grounded pending an investigation.
  • “Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report,” the agency said.
  • News of the flight’s mishap surfaced after a New Yorker piece detailing how the spaceflight didn’t go as smoothly as portrayed.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

Shares of Virgin Galactic tumbled on Thursday after the Federal Aviation Administration announced that the company’s flights are grounded pending an investigation into a mishap during Sir Richard Branson’s trip to space in July.

Virgin Galactic’s stock price on Thursday slipped 7.26% to an intraday low of $24.85.

“Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety,” the federal agency told Insider via email.

It continued: “The FAA is responsible for protecting the public during commercial space transportation launch and reentry operations.”

The agency confirmed that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo did deviate from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America. It is currently investigating the July 11 incident.

News of the flight’s mishap came to light following a piece by The New Yorker detailing how Branson’s spaceflight didn’t go as smoothly as it appeared.

The plane, it reported, did not shoot to space steeply enough, causing it to deviate from its approved flight path on its way back down to Earth. While the two pilots, Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci, were able to correct the error and land safely, they flew outside their airspace clearance zone for one minute and 41 seconds, according to The New Yorker.

Virgin Galactic told Insider that The New Yorker report was “misleading.”

Shares of the aerospace firm have swung wildly in the past 12 months, jumping to as high as $62.80, and sinking as low as $14.27.

Still, Jefferies in August put a 12-month price target of $33 on the stock, which represents a roughly 23% upside from Tuesday’s closing price of $26.79.

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The FAA grounds Virgin Galactic rocket plane as it investigates a mishap during Richard Branson’s flight

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

  • The FAA has grounded a Virgin Galactic rocket plane as it investigates a mishap during a July 11 flight.
  • Billionaire and company co-founder Richard Branson was taken to the edge of space in the vehicle.
  • The FAA said the space plane went outside its clearance zone while returning.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded a Virgin Galactic rocket plane as it investigates a mishap aboard the flight that brought Richard Branson to the edge of space.

“Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety,” the FAA told Insider in a statement Thursday.

The New Yorker’s Nicholas Schmidle initially reported Wednesday that Branson’s spaceflight on July 11 aboard VSS Unity didn’t go as smoothly as it appeared.

The plane didn’t climb to the boundary of space at a steep enough angle, Schmidle reported, ultimately causing it to deviate from its approved flight path on its way back to Earth.

As it descended, the space plane flew outside of its airspace clearance zone for a total of one minute and 41 seconds.

“The FAA is overseeing the Virgin Galactic investigation of its July 11 SpaceShipTwo mishap that occurred over Spaceport America, New Mexico,” the agency said in its statement. “SpaceShipTwo deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America.”

Virgin Galactic told Insider that the New Yorker report was “misleading” and said that no passengers or crew were in danger.

The company said that its spaceship did not fly outside “the lateral confines of the protected airspace,” but instead dropped “below the altitude of the airspace that is protected for Virgin Galactic missions.”

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During Richard Branson’s spaceflight, Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane blared a red warning light and flew out of its clearance zone

virgin galactic space plane firing engines flying up
A still image from video shows Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane, VSS Unity, carrying Richard Branson and crew to the edge of space, July 11, 2021.

As Richard Branson was screaming towards the edge of space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane, a red warning light came on in the cockpit.

The New Yorker’s Nicholas Schmidle reported Wednesday that Branson’s spaceflight on July 11 didn’t go as smoothly as it seemed. The plane didn’t climb to space steeply enough, ultimately causing it to deviate from its approved flight path on its way back to Earth.

The space plane’s pilots, Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci, corrected the error enough to fly and land safely, but in the process, they flew outside their airspace clearance zone for a total of one minute and 41 seconds, according to The New Yorker. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.

In a statement emailed to Insider, an FAA spokesperson said: “During its July 11, 2021 flight, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicle deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America. The FAA investigation is ongoing.”

Virgin Galactic disputed the New Yorker report, calling it “misleading” in a statement to CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz. The company did not, however, immediately reply to Insider’s request for comment.

“At no time were passengers and crew put in any danger as a result of this change in trajectory,” the company told Sheetz. “At no time did the ship travel above any population centers or cause a hazard to the public.”

Virgin Galactic’s pilots kept flying instead of an emergency landing

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

Schmidle spoke to eight people with knowledge of Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight program, according to his New Yorker article. Those sources told him that the first sign of trouble came when a yellow caution light appeared on the pilots’ console as Virgin Galactic’s space plane was ascending at more than twice the speed of sound.

The light indicated that the spacecraft was veering slightly off course – enough to affect its path back down to Earth. According to Schmidle, the plane must fall towards the ground within a particular “entry glide cone” in order to reach the runway where it must land.

The yellow light indicated that the plane’s upward trajectory wasn’t steep enough, so it risked venturing outside its cone. Then, the New Yorker reported, a more urgent red light replaced the yellow one.

Earlier discussions between Virgin Galactic pilots suggest that this was a serious issue, according to Schmidle.

“Red should scare the crap out of you,” Masucci said in a meeting that Schmidle attended in 2015.

CJ Sturckow, another Virgin Galactic test pilot who is a former NASA astronaut, took it a step further. Even a yellow light should “scare the shit out of you,” Sturckow said, according to Schmidle, because “when it turns red, it’s gonna be too late.”

In its statement to CNBC, Virgin Galactic said “high altitude winds” changed its spaceship’s trajectory.

“Our pilots responded appropriately to these changing flight conditions exactly as they have been trained and in strict accordance with our established procedures,” the statement said.

Overall, the company added, this was “a safe and successful test flight that adhered to our flight procedures and training protocols.”

But the New Yorker reported that sources at the company said the safest course of action would have been for Mackay and Masucci to abort the flight once they saw that red light. It’s not clear why the pilots chose to continue flying instead.

There was a lot riding on this event: Virgin Galactic had widely publicized it, was livestreaming it with Stephen Colbert as the host, and was flying its founder-CEO (Branson) for the first time.

The FAA does not regulate passenger safety for commercial spaceflight. For now, the agency’s job is only to ensure the safety of people on the ground and of other aircraft. A rocket that ventures outside its airspace-clearance zone could pose a risk to both.

Even when a spaceflight itself is regulated, though, it’s risky for the people onboard. About 1% of US human spaceflights has resulted in a fatal accident, according to an analysis published earlier this year. That’s about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airplane.

Branson’s trip was one of Virgin Galactic’s final test flights of its space plane. The company plans to start flying paying customers next year.

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Virgin Galactic announces tickets to space will start at $450,000

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane on July 22, 2021.

  • Virgin Galactic resumed ticket sales on Thursday, announcing prices starting at $450,000.
  • Customers will also be able to buy a package of multiple seats or rent out an entire rocket plane.
  • Virgin Galactic aims to start flying tourists to the edge of space in 2022.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hot on the heels of its first successful fully-crewed flight in July, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has reopened ticket sales for future trips to the edge of space, the company said Thursday.

Seats start at $450,000 apiece, up from the $200,000-$250,000 the firm charged previously. Virgin Galactic said customers will be able to purchase a multi-seat package so they can fly with friends or family. There will also be the option to buy out a full flight.

A Virgin Galactic spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment on pricing for the latter two options.

On a mission to transport paying tourists to suborbital space for nearly two decades, Virgin Galactic completed its inaugural fully-crewed flight in July when it launched its billionaire founder and three others 55 miles above Earth’s surface.

Unlike other private space companies, Virgin Galactic doesn’t launch rockets straight up from the ground. Instead, its spacecraft are flown roughly 50,000 feet up by a special jet. The vehicle then detaches before firing up its rocket boosters and starting a near-vertical ascent. Passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness before the vehicle glides back to Earth for a runway landing.

Roughly 600 people have already purchased tickets worth $200,000-$250,000, Virgin Galactic has said, and another 1,000 have placed deposits for future seats. Tourist flights are set to begin in 2022.

Virgin Galactic announced its second-quarter earnings on Thursday, posting a $56 million adjusted loss. The company announced that its next test flight will take place in September.

Shares of Virgin Galactic spiked 11% in after-hours trading on Thursday.

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Virgin Galactic sets ticket prices starting at $450,000

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane on July 22, 2021.

  • Virgin Galactic resumed ticket sales on Thursday, announcing prices starting at $450,000.
  • Customers will also be able to buy a package of multiple seats or rent out an entire rocket plane.
  • Virgin Galactic aims to start flying tourists to the edge of space in 2022.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hot on the heels of its first successful fully-crewed flight in July, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has reopened ticket sales for future trips to the edge of space, the company said Thursday.

Seats start at $450,000 apiece, up from the $200,000-$250,000 the firm charged previously. Virgin Galactic said customers will be able to purchase a multi-seat package so they can fly with friends or family. There will also be the option to buy out a full flight.

A Virgin Galactic spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment on pricing for the latter two options.

On a mission to transport paying tourists to suborbital space for nearly two decades, Virgin Galactic completed its inaugural fully-crewed flight in July when it launched its billionaire founder and three others 55 miles above Earth’s surface.

Unlike other private space companies, Virgin Galactic doesn’t launch rockets straight up from the ground. Instead, its spacecraft are flown roughly 50,000 feet up by a special jet. The vehicle then detaches before firing up its rocket boosters and starting a near-vertical ascent. Passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness before the vehicle glides back to Earth for a runway landing.

Roughly 600 people have already purchased tickets worth $200,000-$250,000, Virgin Galactic has said, and another 1,000 have placed deposits for future seats. Tourist flights are set to begin in 2022.

Virgin Galactic announced its second-quarter earnings on Thursday, posting a $56 million adjusted loss. The company announced that its next test flight will take place in September.

Shares of Virgin Galactic spiked 11% in after-hours trading on Thursday.

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Business leaders have immense power over space travel but there’s a risk they won’t make ethical decisions for the rest of us, say experts

space station
A view from the International Space Station.

  • Many business leaders are showing a keen interest in space travel.
  • Experts have questioned how leaders’ decisions about the future of space will affect ordinary people.
  • One said it’s unclear whether leaders will make humane social and political orders beyond Earth.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently jetted to the edge of space and back in a rocket designed and built by his company Blue Origin. Not long before that, fellow billionaire Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic, also traveled to the edge of space.

While both events were marked as milestones in ushering in a new era of commercial space travel, some space industry figures say there are inherent problems with giving business leaders the keys to space. These leaders also include SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who along with Bezos and Branson, has shown great interest in the space sector.

“They may not make the wisest or most ethical decisions for all of us,” said Jordan Bimm, a space historian at the University of Chicago.

According to Bimm, for Bezos and especially Musk, tourism is just one step in a grand vision of private space settlement. “Bezos envisions millions of humans living off-world in verdant cylindrical space stations. Musk, on the other hand, is fixated on Mars and establishing a million-person city there,” he added.

But this approach is perilous, according to Bimm. He said: “Can we trust them to establish just and humane off-world social and political orders?”

Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

The shift to privatized space travel could also shake up the way NASA operates in the future, Bimm said: “It could mean a revitalized NASA, or a NASA that shifts into more of a basic space science and advisory role to private companies doing human spaceflight.”

Billionaire business leaders are also changing the career path into the space industry, experts told Insider.

“What is changing is the type of elite person allowed to go there,” Bimm said. “Before, it was soldiers and later scientists, and now we are seeing the very wealthy and their handpicked companions added to this elite lineage,” he said.

Michael Brown, assistant professor from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Monash University, agreed, saying that in previous decades those chosen for spaceflight missions tended to be pilots, scientists, engineers, and doctors.

Back then, crews were also carefully selected by a committee of government experts. “Later on, novelist Tom Wolfe famously described what set these astronauts apart as ‘the right stuff’- essentially skill, bravery, and ego,” Bimm said.

But to get to space today, you simply need the “right funds” to buy a ticket, according to Bimm. Or “as we saw in the case of Oliver Daemen and Mark Bezos, the right family to buy a ticket for you.”

Bimm added: “The flight was exciting to watch but also raises key questions about the future: what, and more to the point, who is space for? Soldiers, scientists, and now the wealthy.”

There are many unanswered questions about how accessible space travel really is but according to Brown, “space billionaires are only broadening space access to space millionaires.” He said the access they provide is “limited to a couple of minutes of floating.”

Matthew Hersch, a historian of aerospace technology at Harvard University, said that although the invention of commercial space travel is great, demand from ordinary people seems low.

“We haven’t seen evidence that demand for space launch services is elastic enough to support selling launch services to average people, even if they can be offered cheaply enough,” Hersch added.

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