Sunday, July 11, 2021 marked the first time Sir Richard Branson flew to space aboard the Virgin Galactic (NYSE:SPCE) Unity spacecraft. It was a momentous occasion because it was a critical test flight before commercial operations can begin. But it was also a key moment in making space travel a normal, everyday occurrence.
As commercial operations start and Virgin Galactic begins selling $250,000 tickets to fly into space, this moment could be a turning point for the company. And it's why I'm so bullish on this growth stock long term.
Changing the narrative on space travel
I think the long-term bullish case for Virgin Galactic is that the company will change how we think about going to space. On Sunday morning, I watched Branson's flight with my 4-year-old son (see how to get your kids excited about investing) and saw his excitement as the rocket booster ignited. At the same time, my phone began pinging with notifications from every major publication. That excitement and awe is how we view space travel today.
Ten or 20 years from now, it's likely that a launch like this will be seen as an everyday occurrence. It'll be a thrill for those onboard, just like the first time you flew on a plane. But it won't be a news event covered worldwide -- and that's a good thing.
In 1903, when the Wright brothers first took flight, commercial airline travel was years off. But by the 1950s, it was commonplace, and in 2019, the airline industry was an $800 billion industry per year, according to Statista.
Space travel could be on a similar path, and once an industry like this becomes commonplace, it could open up a huge market. Virgin Galactic's management said they can generate $1 billion in revenue per spaceport and plan to fly nearly everyday in the next few years.
Selling space travel to the masses
In order to build a sustainable business, Virgin Galactic needs to not only prove its flight capabilities, but also attract customers willing to pay $250,000 to fly to space. That marketing side of the business is an equally important part of Sunday's launch. Millions of people saw the flight live or on replay and are now at least aware of the company and its flight plans.
Virgin Galactic can then turn those viewers into sales leads and, then, paying customers. To generate $1 billion in revenue, the company only needs 4,000 customers per year, so it's reaching a much wider audience and only needs to convert a small fraction into paying customers.
Management has said they'll open ticket sales again now that Branson has flown. We'll find out during the second-quarter 2021 conference call just how quickly people are signing up. The company has reported about 600 reservations for a few quarters now, but investors will want to see that number move higher now that commercial operations are on the horizon.
A stock for the future of space
Sunday's flight was an important milestone, in part because I think it will be an ordinary event in coming years. This week, it was an event watched worldwide, but if this is going to be a business with billions of dollars in revenue, this flight will be a daily occurrence. And that would be truly revolutionary in building a company that can build the next generation of travel.