Virgin Galactic delays next spaceflight due to tougher COVID-19 rules

There's no new date just yet.

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Virgin Galactic's SpaceshipTwo Unity flying near Spaceport America
Virgin Galactic

Unfortunate realities on Earth have stalled Virgin Galactic’s next journey to space. CNBC reports that Virgin has indefinitely delayed the SpaceShipTwo test flight scheduled for this week after New Mexico instituted new guidelines to deal with the surge in COVID-19 cases. Company chief Michael Colglazier said his firm would minimize New Mexico operations “to the greatest degree possible” with the “health and safety” of staff in mind.

Virgin was ready to take the postponement “in stride” and would announce a new test schedule “as soon as we can.”

The delay may be necessary as coronavirus infections rise rapidly across the US — even with safety protocols in place, there’s no guarantee Virgin can avoid staff getting sick. However, this also casts doubt on the company’s schedule for commercial flights. This was the first of two final test flights scheduled before Richard Branson hopped aboard in early 2021 and cleared the way for paying passengers. Now, it’s not clear if the spaceflight outfit will come anywhere close to its previous timetable.

That could significantly hurt the company’s bottom line. It has been counting on commercial flights to make up for years of losses, and went so far as to launch its One Small Step reservation program to get firmer commitments. This delay won’t necessarily lead would-be passengers to cancel their deposits, but people who were contemplating a ticket to space might hold off until they have a better sense of when they might fly.

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