Virgin Galactic (SPCE 0.79%) announced earnings last week, and some of the key headlines were the company's $0 in revenue, a delay in commercial flights until 2021, and the offering of a proposed 20,489,977 shares of stock. While those are all important items of news, I think the bigger announcement was the company's next product: a supersonic aircraft.
The initial flights on Virgin Galactic spacecraft will effectively be space tourism. Customers will pay up to $250,000 to spend a few moments in space aboard the SpaceShipTwo Unity and see the world from a new perspective. But the Mach 3 aircraft conceptual design unveiled last week is what could make this a truly disruptive growth stock.
What is the Mach 3 aircraft?
Virgin Galactic announced that its proposed Mach 3 aircraft has completed its mission concept review program milestones and received authorization from the FAA's Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation to work on the certification framework. In essence, the concept feasibility design is complete, and now engineers and manufacturers will begin to design the parts and materials that will go into the aircraft. Notably, Rolls-Royce has signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the design and develop the engine propulsion system.
When completed, the Mach 3 aircraft will carry between nine and 19 people at an altitude of 60,000 feet to destinations around the world. The press release from Virgin Galactic mentions business or first-class seating, but with tickets likely to cost six figures, it's safe to say that all of the seats will be luxurious.
Disrupting travel as we know it
If Mach 3 travel becomes common (by high-end travel standards), it'll enable travel from Los Angeles to Tokyo in three or four hours instead of today's 12-hour flight time, or a two and a half hour flight from London to New York. For wealthy travelers, that's a valuable time savings and could create a huge opportunity for Virgin Galactic.
The Mach 3 aircraft concept is Virgin Galactic's first step toward commercial supersonic point-to-point travel. The company will have competitors like Boom Supersonic, which is also designing a supersonic aircraft, but Virgin Galactic is well funded and already has a brand name that consumers associate with travel. Meanwhile, better-known space-focused companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are focusing on non-consumer-facing travel applications in space.
The challenge for investors is that we likely won't know for years what demand is for regular high-speed travel. For now, 600 customers have put down deposits holding a space for a future suborbital flight and 12 entered into deposit agreements for orbital spaceflight. But the real opportunity is transporting thousands of people per year around the world with regular frequency.
Betting on the future of travel
Virgin Galactic's long-term vision is disrupting travel as we know it. Its current spacecraft is a step in that direction, but it's the Mach 3 aircraft that could be a true game changer if it can be deployed at even a small scale around the world.
The market may be disappointed by the earnings results or the new share dilution, but I think Virgin Galactic is taking a big step toward its vision of being a disruptive company. And that's why I think last week was a bigger week for Virgin Galactic than investors may be giving it credit for.