Virgin Galactic (SPCE) will provide an update on its test flight schedule this week after disclosing a potential issue last week. SPCE stock rose.
In its first-quarter earnings report, the company said the Eve mothership that carries the spaceplane to high altitude before it goes into space may be seeing some wear and tear.
The test flight for the SpaceShipTwo spaceplane, which will carry tourists into space, has already faced repeated delays. Most recently, it was due to conduct a powered flight this month.
Virgin Galactic aborted an earlier attempt because of electromagnetic interference (EMI) from modifications to the spaceplane.
Work to correct the EMI issues is complete, and the spaceplane is ready to start preflight procedures. Fixes include adding components to suppress any EMI from the flight control computer and any EMI from the ship’s wiring.
But the separate issue on the mothership is now holding up the test, which is needed to obtain the final data points before the company can get Federal Aviation Administration approval for commercial services.
“There’s a couple of issues that we want to track and make sure that we see how the vehicle ages over time and how we address it,” management said, during the company’s Q1 call on May 10.
Shares rose 2.8% to 16.64 on the stock market today. But SPCE stock remains well below its key 50-day and 200-day lines, according to MarketSmith chart analysis. Boeing (BA), whose venture capital arm HorizonX has a $20 million minority stake in Virgin Galactic, edged down 0.2%.
After the completion of the next test flight, a second test flight will include two pilots with a full cabin.
A third flight will include founder Richard Branson, with sales of seats to private astronauts reopening around the same time. And a fourth flight, the last of the test flight program, will be with the Italian Air Force to demonstrate Virgin Galactic’s capabilities for microgravity research and professional astronaut training.
While Virgin Galactic maps out its next test flight, a space race is brewing. Blue Origin, the space company of Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos, announced earlier this month that it was auctioning off seats on the first crewed flight of its New Shepard rocket in July.
Virgin Galactic said last Monday that it’s “really important” that Blue Origin be successful because it will “normalize the idea of human spaceflight to the market.”
Follow Gillian Rich on Twitter @IBD_GRich for space news and more.
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