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Virgin Galactic's Delays Continue -- but There's Good News

By Travis Hoium – Aug 24, 2021 at 8:30AM

Key Points

  • Another delay has hit Virgin Galactic; this time it needs four months in order to upgrade its mothership.
  • While delays aren't good news, the justification is a reduction in maintenance.
  • Long-term, this could make Virgin Galactic even more profitable for investors willing to hang on for the ride.

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Virgin Galactic is delaying commercial flights until late next summer, but could be in better shape when flights get off the ground.

Virgin Galactic Holdings (SPCE -0.87%) isn't new to delays to its flights, but the latest four-month delay to commercial space flights comes as a bit of a surprise. After founder Sir Richard Branson's space flight the company opened up commercial ticket sales at a $450,000 price point and there was hope that meaningful revenue was around the corner. 

Instead, the delay will push commercial space flights back until at least late summer 2022. But there may be a positive side to the delays. Once again, investors need to focus on the long term to see the upside from here. 

Virgin Galactic's mothership and spacecraft flying overhead.

Image source: Virgin Galactic.

The latest delay

Last week, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier announced the company was delaying commercial launches by four months because of enhancements being made to mothership VMS Eve and spacecraft VSS Unity. He said upgrades to Eve will allow it to fly 100 times between major inspections, up from 10 flights expected previously. 

These upgrades weren't planned previously, but as investors, we need to remember that Virgin Galactic is building aircraft and spacecraft from scratch. It's testing the flight experience, safety, maintenance, and wear and tear all in real time and making improvements on the fly. Timelines will change but as I have argued with past delays, if Virgin Galactic is putting safety first and is building a sustainable business, the delays could pay off long-term. 

Experience and efficiency is now the focus

With at least 600 people in the queue to fly into space, Virgin Galactic is now fine-tuning the experience customers are paying for and optimizing its business. This latest delay is intended to increase the number of flights the company can perform in a year, thereby increasing revenue and margin per aircraft. We don't know the exact cost or time for regular maintenance, but I think it's clear that management is making tweaks to operations that it thinks will make the business more efficient. 

The additional time will also allow Virgin Galactic to work on ticket sales for space flights as well as building and testing the next-generation spacecraft, known as SpaceShip III. By the end of next year, Virgin Galactic could have two spaceships available to fly, meaning multiple trips per week to space. 

The long road ahead

Investors who don't have the very long term in mind shouldn't even consider Virgin Galactic stock, and the most recent delays show exactly why. The company is still about a year (at best) from generating meaningful revenue and will likely burn hundreds of millions of dollars in the meantime. 

But the upside could also be worth waiting for. At $450,000 or more per ticket, the company could generate nearly $3 million from each flight given the six-seat capacity. And if the company can reach its goal of 400 flights per year, a spaceport could generate $1.2 billion in revenue.

What's unclear at this point is when Virgin Galactic will become a growth stock because of its operations, rather than just being priced like a growth stock on the market. Investors may need to wait until late in 2022 to see commercial results, but that's the price to pay to invest in the disruptive space business. 

Travis Hoium owns shares of Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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