Virgin Galactic, while fighting delays in returning tourists to space, is building for the future.
The new class of space tourist ship for Virgin Galactic, called Delta, is coming together with a new deal to fly Axiom Space astronauts along with contracts to secure key suppliers, the company said in press releases this week. Delta may fly as frequently as once a week and is slated to enter service in 2026.
Virgin has made four crewed test flights (the latest was in July 2021), and has since delayed its return to space several times due to pandemic-related supply issues for upgrades. Competitor Blue Origin, meanwhile, aced six operational tourist flights before an uncrewed rocket failure in September.
More information about whether Virgin will meet their newer return-to-flight target of spring 2023 should come today (Nov. 3) when the company releases financial results after markets close. Virgin's stock price is down 90% from a year ago.
Ahead of quarterly results, Virgin released a pair of deals Wednesday and Thursday (Nov. 2 and 3) previewing its spaceflight plans, including how it plans to get Delta ready. The company previously said paying tourists may climb aboard Delta as soon as 2026.
One of Virgin's next flights with the current-generation SpaceShipTwo, which flies to space after detaching mid-air from carrier ship Eve, will help an Axiom astronaut get accustomed to weightlessness ahead of a flight to the International Space Station. The Houston-based company has three commercial flights with SpaceX booked, Ax-2 through Ax-4, following the success of Ax-1 in April.
"The Virgin Galactic spaceflight, tentatively scheduled for next year, will prepare an Axiom Space astronaut for an upcoming trip to orbit, while conducting microgravity research to supplement the work they will do," Virgin officials stated (opens in new tab) on Nov. 3.
Virgin also announced this week that two companies would manufacture parts for Delta starting in 2023.
Bell Textron will supply the "feathering" system that controls re-entry, along with flight control surfaces. Qarbon Aerospace will create the fuselage and the wing. The amount of the two contracts was not disclosed.
Pointing to a deal earlier in 2022 that will see Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences build two new motherships, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement (opens in new tab) that Delta builds are ready to move forward. "We now have the primary suppliers in place," Colglazier said Tuesday (Nov. 2).
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).