Virgin Galactic, while battling delays in returning tourists to space, is building for the future.
The new class of space sightseeing ship for Virgin Galactic, called Delta, is closing in on a new deal to fly Axiom Space astronauts as well as contracts to secure key suppliers, the company said in press releases this week. Delta can fly as frequently as once a week and is expected to enter service in 2026.
Virgin has flown four crewed test flights (the last 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, managed six operational sightseeing flights before an uncrewed rocket failure in September.
More information on whether Virgin will meet its new Spring 2023 return to flying target is expected to arrive today (November 3) when the company releases its financial results after markets close. Virgin’s share price is down 90% from a year ago.
In picture : Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed spaceflight with Richard Branson
Ahead of quarterly results, Virgin released a pair of agreements on Wednesday and Thursday (November 2 and 3) outlining its spaceflight plans, including how it plans to prepare Delta. The company previously said paying tourists could board Delta as early as 2026.
One of Virgin’s next flights with the current-generation SpaceShipTwo, which flies into space after detaching in mid-air from the carrier ship Eve, will help an Axiom astronaut acclimate to weightlessness before 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 complement the work they will be doing,” officials said. from Virgin. (opens in a new tab) November 3.
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Virgin also announced this week that two companies will make parts for Delta starting in 2023.
Bell Textron will supply the “feathering” system that controls reentry, as well as the flight control surfaces. Qarbon Aerospace will produce the fuselage and the wing. The amount of the two contracts has not been disclosed.
Highlighting 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 a new tab) that Delta’s constructions are ready to go. “We now have the main suppliers in place,” Colglazier said on Tuesday (November 2).
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (opens in a new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Where Facebook (opens in a new tab).