Virgin Galactic (SPCE) announced late Friday that it would delay its first commercial research flight by several weeks. SPCE stock tumbled Monday.
The commercial space company is now projecting late October instead of late September or early October for its Unity 23 research flight with the Italian Air Force due after a supplier warned of a possible “manufacturing defect” in a component of the flight control actuation system.
Virgin Galactic said it wasn’t clear if the issue is present in the company’s vehicles and if any repair work is needed. It said that the delay is out of “abundance of caution.”
The research flight delay comes as regulators have grounded Virgin Galactic’s flights over a mishap.
The Federal Aviation Administration opened a probe earlier this month into Virgin Galactic’s flight on July 11 for veering off its projected flight path during descent. The flight included two pilots, three crew members and founder Richard Branson.
“Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety,” the FAA said in a statement.
Shares fell over 3% to 24.37 in pre-market trading on the stock market today. SPCE stock has been stuck below its 50- and 200-day lines for more than a month, according to MarketSmith chart analysis. Boeing (BA) shares edged up 0.5% to 211.40. Boeing’s venture capital arm is invested in Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.
The delays at Virgin Galactic could further set back its flight test program and the start of commercial service, which has already been pushed back multiple times.
And even after the commercial flight program has started, more maintenance work is on the horizon.
After the Unity 23 flight, the company’s sole mothership, Eve, will be grounded for an eight-month enhancement period. Analysts don’t see any Virgin Galactic flights until the summer of 2022.
Follow Gillian Rich on Twitter @IBD_GRich for space news and more.
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