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Virgin Galactic space tourism flights delayed until 2022

February 26, 2021, 5:01 PM UTC

Looking to leave Earth behind? You’re going to have to wait a little while longer.

Virgin Galactic has announced that it is pushing its space tourism program launch date back to “early 2022,” abandoning hopes it would begin the program this year. The announcement came Thursday afternoon in an earnings call.

The news follows problems with a disappointing December 2020 launch, when the rocket motor of SpaceShipTwo did not ignite. That flight, had it gone well, was supposed to be the ship’s last test before specialists were going to join to focus on improvements for passengers.

The delay in space tourism, however, will not slow down Virgin Galactic’s rollout of its next ship. SpaceShipThree is set for reveal on March 30.

“We expect that VSS Unity will begin flying private astronauts and SpaceShipThree will be in a position to complete its flight testing, which we expect to be in early 2022,” said CEO Michael Colglazier.

The next test flight is scheduled for May. Two others will follow in the summer, followed by a flight with Italian air force personnel that will bring the company some income in later summer or early fall. After that, assuming all goes well, it will be founder Sir Richard Branson’s turn. And that’s when the marketing for passengers really begins. Flights will start after a few months of upgrades.

“We’re looking to the flight with Richard Branson to really showcase for the world what our private astronaut experience will be,” said Colglazier. “And that’s why we’ll be opening up and really pushing our commercial sales strategy, following that flight and the Italian astronaut, which is a revenue-producing flight, and we’re excited to get into that side and an inflection point in our business.”