Virgin Galactic, the aerospace company that aims to serve as a “commercial spaceline,” has found a partner to help it build two new motherships. The company is working with Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing company, to design and manufacture its next-gen motherships.
Virgin Galactic’s motherships are responsible for carrying spaceships to their release altitude of about 50,000 feet. The two new motherships are expected to support 400 flights per year.
The first new mothership is expected to enter service in 2025. By that time, Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceflight business — carrying well-heeled customers on a 90-minute journey to micro-gravity and back — should be well under way. The company says its commercial missions are expected to start in the first quarter of 2023.
“We expect to begin space flight later this year with commercial launch in the first quarter of 2023,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said during a May Q1 earnings conference call. “We are seeing strong uptake across our product offerings, including multi-seat and well as interest in research plans. Our future astronaut community stands at approximately 800 reservations. The design work for the next generation of our spaceflight system is well underway, and we are making progress in establishing the infrastructure to scale our business.”
The first customers to make reservations paid $200,000 to $250,000, Colglazier said in the May call. At the time of the call, he said, Virgin Galactic was taking reservations for $450,000.
While Virgin Galatic begins work on its new motherships, it’s also enhancing its current mothership, VMS Eve. The company is also enhancing its two spaceships, with the goal of improving their durability and reliability. The VSS Unity should return to space for test flights expected in Q4 of this year. Virgin Galactic’s second spaceship, VSS Imagine, will make a debut test flight to space in Q1 of 2023. Following several revenue-generating test flights, the company expects VSS Imagine to begin private service midway through 2023. In 2025, Virgin Galactic expects to introduce its first new Delta-class spaceship.
Virgin Galactic works with partners like Aurora to build its new vehicles so that it can tap into existing labor pools, as well as a broader scope of innovation and technology. It also gives their in-house team room to focus on complex and critical elements such as design, engineering and final assembly. Aurora, a 30 year-old company headquartered in Virginia, specializes in novel aircraft configurations and complex composites.
“Our next generation motherships are integral to scaling our operations,” Colglazier said in a statement. “They will be faster to produce, easier to maintain and will allow us to fly substantially more missions each year.”