Virgin Galactic has postponed the start of its commercial service to suborbital space, from late 2022 to early 2023. Earlier during its first-quarter earnings release, it was known that its VSS Unity spaceplane will be launched in 2023. However, the dates are changed now.
Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, noted in an earnings call that it was experiencing “elevated levels of supply chain disruption” and hiring that was not keeping pace with projections. “Our projections on hiring and our forecast of certain long-lead material deliveries suggest we may need additional schedule contingency,” he said. “For this reason, we are shifting the expected commencement of commercial service from Q4 of ’22 to Q1 of ’23.”
Asked later about specific supply chain issues, Colglazier mentioned the availability of “high-performance metallics” used on the vehicles, which primarily are made of carbon composites. “It’s metallics where we’re really seeing delivery times that are quite extended,” he said, such an aluminum alloy that once had a lead time of a “couple, three weeks” now far longer. While the company has worked to mitigate those delays by finding alternative sources, “cumulatively these things start to add up.”
The other issue is hiring. Virgin Galactic is expanding its engineering staff, but he said most of the new employees are working on the design of the company’s new “Delta-class” spaceplane that the company expects to enter service in mid-decade. Existing staff, he said, are spread out working on Unity, Eve, and Imagine, the new suborbital spaceplane now slated to enter commercial service in mid-2023.
“We had an engineering team that had mostly been building one ship, Imagine, because Unity and Eve were more in flight test,” he said. “We now have that same engineering team that has experience spread over all three ships.”
Unity and Eve are currently scheduled to resume flight tests in the fourth quarter, Colglazier said, with one glide flight and one powered test flight planned before starting commercial service in early 2023. Imagine, the new spaceplane will make its first flight to space in the first quarter of 2023 with several “revenue-generating” test flights to follow before it starts carrying customers in mid-2023. He didn’t elaborate on the overall test flight schedule for Imagine, which would likely include a number of captive carries and glide flights before starting powered flights, based on the experience of past Virgin Galactic vehicles. Despite its current supply chain problems, Virgin Galactic is moving ahead with a strategy for building its Delta-class spaceplanes that will shift more of the work onto suppliers.
Credits- Space News