When Virgin Galactic (NYSE:SPCE) went public via SPAC merger in 2019, the company projected that 66 passengers would fly aboard the company's spacecraft in 2020 and another 646 in 2021. Revenue was projected to be $210 million this year and $590 million in 2023, putting it firmly in rapid growth stock territory.
Investors recently got word that yet another delay is hitting Virgin Galactic, and at best we will see a small number of revenue-generating flights in 2022, assuming no more delays. And with insiders selling shares, there are more than a few reasons to be worried about Virgin Galactic stock.
The latest delay
Management announced on Aug. 14 that it is delaying the Unity 23 flight in order to complete upgrades to VMS Eve (mothership) and VSS Unity (spacecraft). Management says the "enhancement program" will improve vehicle performance and the rate of flights, which were planned upgrades, just not right now.
Given the time it will take to test a new finding of a "possible reduction in the strength margins of certain materials used to modify specific joints," the company decided to investigate this issue at the same time it does other upgrades. It's unlikely Virgin Galactic will fly before mid-2022 as a result, and commercial flights won't happen until at least the fourth quarter of 2022.
This delay is on top of a delay this past spring due to EMI interference and another delay in September due to a potential supplier defect. And the FAA has even investigated the company after Unity 22 flew outside of its designated area.
Delays happen in any business, and especially in a company trying to build an entirely new aircraft for a new use case. But for Virgin Galactic, delays are becoming a habit.
I have been quick to wave past delays off as "normal" or "part of the process" in the past, and that may be the case with this latest delay. But the sheer number of delays and the fact that Virgin Galactic's actual commercial operations are going to start at best two years after what was projected in its SPAC merger documentation are problems. Investors want companies to underpromise and overdeliver. Virgin Galactic has a habit of overpromising... and it's not yet clear if the company will ever deliver.
What to think about Virgin Galactic today
There's no doubt that Virgin Galactic is in a tough position here. If a short-term delay to make upgrades to aircraft results in a higher cadence for space flights in a few years or better safety, then the delay is absolutely the right move. And part of the problem is that delays are happening with the stock market's spotlight on the company, rather than potential delays a private company might have that would never hit the press.
Virgin Galactic has always been a high-risk stock, but the upside could be tremendous if the company can make space tourism a reality and charge half a million dollars per ticket for a single seat. However, it may take longer than hoped to reach that reality.
I'm hanging onto my shares right now and hoping this is another short-term blip for a long-term investing win, but my radar is up for this being a company that never quite reaches its potential because delay after delay allows others to win this version of the space race.