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By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 (Reuters) – Space exploration company Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc said on Thursday that it was postponing its commercial space travel service to the fourth quarter of 2022 and would not conduct another test flight scheduled this year.
Virgin Galactic said that “commercial service is now expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2022”. The company’s shares fell 13% in after-hours trading.
On September 2, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned Virgin Galactic from flying its SpaceShipTwo pending completion of a report on the theft of the Virgin Galactic rocket plane that carried the British billionaire. Richard Branson at the edge of space.
Branson was one of six Virgin Galactic employees who took part in the July flight, soaring more than 50 miles in space.
On September 29, the FAA closed its investigation into the incident with the July 11 Virgin Galactic Unity 22 launch, which deviated from assigned airspace during the descent, and lifted the restraint order. that she had imposed earlier.
Virgin Galactic announced in September that it was planning another SpaceShipTwo flight from New Mexico, Unity 23, pending technical checks and weather. The company said last month that it expects it to “open its flight window for Unity 23 no earlier than mid-October.”
But Virgin Galactic said Thursday it would now begin its planned improvement program first and perform Unity 23 test flight after that work is complete and before starting commercial service.
The improvement program is designed to improve vehicle performance and flight speed capability.
The company said Thursday that a recent lab test “reported a possible reduction in strength margins of certain materials used to modify specific joints.”
The company added that “the new lab test data has had no impact on the vehicles, our test flight protocols have clearly defined strength margins, and further analysis will assess whether further work is needed. to maintain them at or above established levels “. (Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Chavi Mehta in Bengaluru; editing by Maju Samuel and Sandra Maler)