Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft Unity fires its rocket engine and heads to space on Feb. 22, 2019.
Virgin Galactic stock jumped after the space tourism company announced its next spaceflight test is targeting Saturday, following the completion of a maintenance review of its carrier aircraft.
The stock was getting hit on concerns Virgin Galactic would delay this spaceflight test from this month, with the company having previously said it would launch in May. A delay would have compounded issues that have put the stock under pressure in recent months, including increased competition from Jeff Bezos‘ Blue Origin.
“Following a detailed inspection and thorough analysis of our mothership, Eve, we have cleared our Spaceflight System for our upcoming flight,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement.
Shares of Virgin Galactic jumped as much as 17% in premarket trading from its previous close of $17.27.
Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft releases its spacecraft Unity during a glide flight test.
Virgin Galactic leadership, when the company reported first quarter results last week, revealed that the target date for the next spaceflight test was under evaluation due to a possible maintenance issue with VMS Eve, the aircraft that carries the spacecraft before launch. The company said on Thursday its engineering analysis determined the VMS Eve “structures healthy,” clearing the aircraft for flight.
The company is working to complete development of its SpaceShipTwo system, with four test flights remaining before Virgin Galactic begins commercial service in 2022.
Virgin Galactic attempted the first of those four spaceflight tests in December, but the mission was cut short by an engine anomaly. The company scheduled a repeat of the flight attempt for February, but then delayed to May to give more time to address an electromagnetic interference issue with the spacecraft’s flight computer.
This upcoming spaceflight test will fly with just the two pilots onboard, but will also carry microgravity research payloads under NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. In addition to resolving the issue which cut short the December attempt, Virgin Galactic said this spaceflight test will further evaluate its customer cabin and test a livestream from onboard the spacecraft.
The company noted that the spaceflight attempt on Saturday is dependent on final technical checks of the hardware and weather around Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Virgin Galactic’s stock is down 27% year to date as of Wednesday’s close, after shares has soared above $60 in February. Its stock losses accelerated over the past two months after the test program delays, as well as share sales by chairman Chamath Palihapitiya, founder Richard Branson, and Cathie Wood’s new space ETF.
The stock also fell after Jeff Bezos’ venture Blue Origin announced plans to launch the first crewed flight of its space tourism rocket on July 20, a move which UBS warned likely removes Virgin Galactic’s first-mover advantage.