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Virgin Galactic Flights Just Around Corner

Tustin Tourism Firm Plans Q2 Launches

Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) in Tustin is nearing the countdown for sending tourists hurtling into space.

The company’s long-awaited paid flights are scheduled to start in the second quarter, CEO and President Michael Colglazier told analysts late last month.

Plans are moving ahead now that an upgrade has been made on the twin-fuselage “mothership” airplane, VMS Eve, which takes the company’s VSS Unity suborbital spaceship skyward, officials said.

Virgin Galactic was founded by British mega-entrepreneur Richard Branson in 2004. It went public in 2019 and counted a market valuation of about $1.5 billion as of last week.

The space tourism firm, which leases 61,000 square feet of space at the Flight office campus in Tustin, is that city’s most valuable public company, though real estate sources tell the Business Journal a larger healthcare REIT is expected to move its headquarters to the same office campus later this year.

Space Riders

Colglazier said the number of paying customers waiting to fly after putting down a hefty deposit remains stable at about 800, though the figure varies from time to time. They will pay $450,000 each for a single ride at the current price.

That’s significantly less than what Jeff Bezos’ rival upstart space tourism firm, Blue Origin, is expected to charge, according to analysts.

An Italian Air Force research team will go up first on a Virgin Galactic flight in the second quarter, kicking off commercial service. The second quarter starts on April 1.

Colglazier said the company would get a “couple flights under our belt” before moving to once-a-month missions and eventually to more frequent flights.

The company has set aside about 100 seats for use by researchers heading toward space on the journey, which will last about 90 minutes.

Virgin Galactic had a net loss of $151 million in the fourth quarter, almost double the $81 million net loss in the same period a year earlier.

That drove total losses last year to $500 million, up from a $353 million loss in 2021.

Theme Park Experience

Each flight in space will travel over 50 miles high above ground, after VSS Unity launches midair from the center of its VMS Eve carrier plane.

The spacecraft glides back for a landing much like commercial airliners.

Colglazier, who previously oversaw operations at Disneyland, says the company is upping the experiential portion of its business in preparation for more frequent flights.

In 2022, “we laid the foundation for an astronaut experience that will be unrivaled. We completed the conceptual design for our first of its kind astronaut campus, and we acquired an incredible site for the campus close to Spaceport America that will be reserved exclusively for Virgin Galactic future astronauts and their guests as they prepare for their journey to space,” he told analysts.

Spaceport America is in New Mexico, but Colglazier says the company envisions adding locations across the globe in future years.

“It’d be amazing to look down over the boot of Italy or over the Sea of Japan or other places,” he said.

That’s “why we’re building a factory in Phoenix that can continue to produce spaceships, not only for Spaceport America, but it can continue to populate additional Spaceports.”

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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