Category: To the Point with Mick Rich To the Point with Mick Rich
Published: 06 June 2022 06 June 2022

three planesVirgin Galactic's Carrier Aircraft and Spaceplane (Virgin Galactic Photo)  

Virgin Galactic (VG) achieved great heights in 2021. Richard Branson flew into space on Virgin Galactic's space plane Unity. VG announced their goal was to launch 400 flights per year per Spaceport starting at Spaceport America in New Mexico generating a billion dollars in revenue per spaceport. VG stock prices reach an all-time high of $55.91 per share on June 25, 2021. Since then, Virgin Galactic has been in a free fall.

In 2005 Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic and Burt Rutan of Scaled Composite (SC) established The Spaceship Company  (TSC)  to build Virgin Galactic's fleet to launch tourists into space. Branson was betting on the combination of a carrier plane and a spaceplane constructed of light-weight carbon-fiber composite as the simplest and quickest way to launch tourists into space

In 2007 Northrup Grumman purchased SC and by 2012 they parted company with TSC. However, TSC still had a connection to SC, their president Dough Shane became TSC's president. In 2020 Doug Shane left TSC and the following year VG unveiled their stainless-steel clad spaceplane, abandoning the light-weight carbon-fiber cladding. Would the additional weight impact the performance of the VG's spaceplane?

In 2021 Richard Branson flew aboard VG's Spaceplane beating Jeff Bezos in the Race to Space. However, shortly after the flight, the FAA grounded VC's spaceflights for failing to stay within the restricted air space above New Mexico. VG blamed high upper atmospheric winds for the failure to follow the planned trajectory. I question if the additional weight of the stainless-steel cladding is a contributing factor.  

In 2020 Michael Colglazier, past President of Disney Resorts, was appointed CEO of Virgin Galactic, the first VG CEO without any aerospace experience. The choice was surprising, Colglazier signaled VG was pivoting to launching tourists into space despite VG's inability to consistently launch successful flights into space.   

Colglazier announced in 2020 that Virgin Galactic's goal was to launch 400 flights per year per spaceport yet I found no evidence they are building a fleet of carrier aircraft and space planes to support that goal. The TSC/VG no longer has job opportunities postings on Facebook or LinkedIn and only has limited job opportunities on their corporate website. Their website and social media sites still show year-old photographs of the production floor.     

After my research, I had serious questions about the future of Virgin Galactic. I reached out to VG's public relations individual to no avail. I spoke briefly with the VG's investor relations individual and despite his assurance, he did not call back nor return follow-up emails. No one answered the telephone at TSC/VG manufacturing facility in Mojave. A necessary trip to Mojave was in my future.   

A picture containing outdoor  Description automatically generatedThe Spaceship Company / Virgin Galactic Production Facility Photo by Mick Rich

In February 2022 I drove to Mojave and arrived on a Friday morning. What I found were empty parking lots (the production facility is closed on Fridays), no supplies or parts stored outside, no aircraft or spaceplanes, and abandoned parts in their boneyard. I was able to poke my head into TSC/VG's lobby and asked the receptionist a few questions.  "Is this where they are building the spaceships? Yes. How many are you building? A Fleet. Are you building ten or twenty spaceships? We are building a fleet. After that, she was out of responses and referred me to the public relations person.

It is too early to know whether TSC/VG has completely abandoned light-weight carbon-fiber composites other than the cladding for the easier to manufacture heavier stainless steel. In aerospace, weight is an ill-afforded luxury that can result in the redesign of the airframe to the engines. 

A picture containing sky, outdoor, plane, airplane  Description automatically generatedAdjacent to Virgin Orbit Operation Center Photo by Mick Rich

When I saw the old Virgin Atlantic 747 with a fresh Virgin Orbit logo, I wondered, if this 1960-era 747 was the future of Virgin Galactic?

On May 5, Virgin Galactic announced it was once again delaying the start of passenger service until the winter of 2023.  Virgin Galactic shares are now trading under $10.00 per share. The question is not what the future looks like for Virgin Galactic. It is, what happens to the shareholder's investment? What happens to the deposits placed for future rides into space? What happens to New Mexico's hundreds of millions gambled on the dream of Richard Branson, Dick Rutan, and Bill Richardson?

 Only in New Mexico

Jay McClesky candidate, Mark Ronchetti, acknowledged he has no Relevant Experience for Governor and Ronchetti's  resume shows he is just a weatherman . Why didn't McClesky choose Steve Stucker as his Candidate, he has been Albuquerque's Favorite TV Personality and or Favorite Meteorologist for seventeen years in a row and has broad experience?

The NM Democrat AG election is down to corruption vs wokeness. Colon as State Auditor has yet to answer why the federal government, not his office discovered the millions taken from school children by fellow Democrat, Sheryl Williams Stapleton. Torrez has yet to answer why didn't he keep violent criminal Darian Bashir out of neighborhoods until Bashir murdered Jackson Weller in cold blood.

In November ABQ Journal supported the Albuquerque Public School bond measures and tax mill levies. In January they celebrated Mimi Stewart's thirty years of accomplishments as a teacher/legislator. In April, the ABQ Journal reported APS enrollment was down 17% and administrative expenses were up 21%. Is anyone shocked that APS's priority was on the employment of staff and not on student performance?

From Santa Fe to Washington

Donald Trump made accomplishing Energy Independence and Low Energy Prices look so easy.

Not only has President Biden and his Sec of Interior Deb Holand (NM Democrats’ own past state party chair) reversed that success, but Deb Haaland has refused to acknowledge that gas prices are too high. Biden and Haaland continue to strangle oil and gas production on Federal Lands resulting in America once again being dependent on the despots of the world.

When When Biden and Haaland are done with us we will be grateful to get five gallons of gas no matter what the price is.