Many people dream of going to space, and Virgin Galactic Holdings (SPCE -3.29%) wants to make that dream comes true for thousands of passengers. The company is looking to offer space tourists the chance to reach low earth orbit, and although the price tag is a hefty $250,000, Virgin Galactic has plenty of people who've already signed up.
Virgin Galactic stock has been turbulent since it came public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company in October 2019. The share price soared briefly about $40 per share in February 2020 before coming down to earth in the coronavirus bear market, and since then, it's seen both pops and drops. If Virgin Galactic wants to prove itself as a first-mover in a brand new industry, it needs to make these three things happen.
1. Virgin Galactic needs to generate more hype about its space tourism progress
The whole idea of investing in Virgin Galactic is to see members of the general public climb aboard its space planes and take flight. Yet that's still months if not years away, and in part, it's because the company's test flight schedule hasn't gone at the pace that investors would like to see.
Admittedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a factor in delaying Virgin Galactic's plans. The space tourism company has had to take measures to protect its employees, and that's included limited operations over the past several months.
Yet even the company's earnings presentations aren't as forthright as they could be about Virgin Galactic's expectations. Slides from the most recent quarter said that the company remains "focused on completing the test flight program as soon as possible" but lacked many details. With 24 of 29 elements of the Federal Aviation Administration's verification and validation program complete, Virgin Galactic is hopefully getting close, but it can't commit to a timeframe that will allow it to generate the buzz that rival SpaceX has done with its launches.
2. Virgin Galactic has to get people to the International Space Station
Just earlier this week, Virgin Galactic announced that it had signed an agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to collaborate on ways to get more people to the International Space Station. The agreement provides for Virgin Galactic to identify those willing to pay for private astronaut missions to the station, as well as coordinating the logistics involved in getting those buyers into orbit.
Again, the success of the partnership is contingent on Virgin Galactic getting through its test program successfully. Going forward, proving itself with International Space Station missions will let Virgin Galactic come up with other ideas for its business -- including perhaps the construction of a private orbital facility of its own.
3. Richard Branson has to demonstrate his true commitment to Virgin Galactic
It's impossible not to draw parallels between Elon Musk's SpaceX and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. Yet while Musk has remained completely dedicated to SpaceX with a sizable ownership stake, Branson recently showed his willingness to sacrifice his commitment to Virgin Galactic when times got tough for the rest of his empire.
Specifically, Branson has had trouble with his Virgin Atlantic airline business, and he resorted to selling off part of Virgin's stake in the space business to generate cash to bail out its airline . With ongoing pressure on the airline industry, it's unclear whether future sales might prove necessary.
Much of the value of Virgin Galactic for shareholders is tied to Branson's genius. Losing that as an asset would be a huge blow, and Branson needs to find a way to prove that he still believes in the full potential that Virgin Galactic has.
All go for launch
Virgin Galactic shareholders still have high hopes for the space tourism company, and it's already come a long way. To deliver on its promise to bullish investors, Virgin Galactic now needs to keep moving forward to show the world that it will deliver on its ambitious plans and put ordinary people into space.