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Virgin Galactic pushes 1st commercial passenger flight to spring 2023

An up-close look at VSS Unity's rocket motor in action on July 11, 2021.
An up-close look at VSS Unity's rocket motor in action on July 11, 2021. Flames can be seen streaking out of the back of a very sleek-looking space plane. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic is pushing its first space tourist mission back by another three months.

Suborbital space tourism provider Virgin Galactic announced (opens in new tab) Thursday (Aug. 4) that it will delay the start of its commercial service once again to the second quarter of 2023, due to upgrade delays for the company's mothership, VSS Eve.

Virgin Galactic sends paying passengers to space with two vehicles. It uses the carrier aircraft VMS Eve, which brings the spaceship VSS Unity to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). At that point, Unity drops away and soars to suborbital space using rocket engines. 

Upgrade work on Eve was previously pushed back due to pandemic-related supply chain issues. That said, Virgin has been making other infrastructure announcements in recent weeks. An example is a new astronaut training facility near Spaceport America, Virgin's primary launch site. 

In photos: Virgin Galactic's 1st fully crewed spaceflight with Richard Branson

In June, Virgin also signed a deal with Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences to build two new motherships to enter service in 2025, to support a fleet of new "Delta-class" space planes scheduled to fly once a week. Paying customers may fly on the Delta fleet as soon as 2026.

"While our short-term plans now call for commercial service to launch in the second quarter of 2023, progress on our future fleet continues and many of the key elements of our roadmap are now in place to scale the business in a meaningful way," Virgin CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement (opens in new tab) announcing the company's second-quarter financial results for the fiscal year 2022.

Virgin reported a net loss of $111 million in Q2 compared with $94 million in the second quarter of 2021, with cash on hand at $1.1 billion as of June 30.

Other announcements in the quarter include a Delta manufacturing facility in Mesa, Arizona to build up to six spaceships a year starting in late 2023, and a partnership with luxury travel company Virtuoso to offer a few reservations among Virgin's first 1,000 seats. (Around 800 individuals were wait-listed already before this deal, Virgin has said.) A seat on VSS Unity currently costs $450,000.

Blue Origin, the biggest competitor of Virgin Galactic for the suborbital space market, has flown six times to space with passengers on board. The most recent flight coincidentally occurred on the same day as Virgin's results, on Aug. 4, sending six more people to space aboard mission NS-22.

VSS Unity has flown to space four times to date, most recently in July 2021. But none of those missions were operational tourist flights.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.