Virgin Galactic is expanding its operations to support production of its upcoming next-generation Delta-class spaceships.
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The aerospace giant has signed a long-term lease for a new final assembly manufacturing facility in Mesa, Arizona, which will be capable of producing up to six spaceships per year and bring hundreds of highly skilled jobs to the greater Phoenix area.
The facility is already under construction and is expected to be fully operational by late 2023. Financial terms of the lease were not disclosed.
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Based on current schedules, the Delta-class fleet is expected to start revenue-generating payload flights in late 2025 and private astronaut flights in 2026.
Virgin Galactic, which plans to fly the Delta-class spaceship on a weekly basis, has set a target for 400 flights per year out of Spaceport America in New Mexico.
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In addition to building out manufacturing capability for its Delta-class fleet, Virgin Galactic has reached an agreement with Boeing subsidiary Aurora Sciences to build two of its next-generation motherships, which will be capable of flying up to 200 launches per year.
The aircraft will be built at Aurora’s facilities in Columbus, Mississippi and Bridgeport, West Virginia, with final assembly taking place at Virgin Galactic’s Mojave, California, facility. The first new mothership is expected to enter service in 2025.
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The announcements come as Virgin Galactic has delayed commercial service until the first quarter of 2023 due to labor and supply chain challenges.
In February, Virgin Galactic opened commercial spaceflight ticket sales to the public at $ 450,000 per seat. Customers are required to give an initial deposit of $ 150,000 to hold their spot. About $ 25,000 of that deposit will be nonrefundable.
Prior to the price increase, the company charged between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000 apiece. Virgin Galactic has approximately 800 reservations for commercial spaceflights.
Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier told analysts during the company’s first quarter earnings call in May that the company has been making “good progress” on enhancements to its VSS Unity spaceplane and VMS Eve mothership. The enhancements are designed to enable a higher frequency flight rate for commercial service.
The next test flight for VSS Unity is currently on track for the fourth quarter of 2022. Meanwhile, the company’s second spaceship, VSS Imagine, will make a debut test flight in the first quarter of 2023 and is expected to begin commercial service in mid- 2023. Once Unity and Imagine are both flying commercial spaceflights, Virgin Galactic expects to fly to space approximately three times per month.
Shares of Virgin Galactic have fallen approximately 46% year to date.