Virgin Galactic to Phase Out Unity Suborbital Flights in Mid-2024

Jeff Foust reports in SpaceNews:

In a Nov. 8 earnings call, company executives said flights of VSS Unity, which completed its fifth commercial suborbital mission Nov. 2, would move to a quarterly frequency starting with its next mission, Galactic 06 in January. That would be followed by Galactic 07 early in the second quarter.

There could be a third mission, Galactic 08, around the middle of the year, but Michael Colglazier, Virgin Galactic’s chief executive, said the company had not decided yet whether to fly that mission before moving personnel and other resources to work on its Delta-class of vehicles.

Virgin Galactic announced Nov. 7 it would be laying off staff and reducing other expenses to concentrate resources on the Delta class, which Colglazier said was key to the company’s future. The company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it would be cutting 185 jobs, or about 18% of its current workforce.

Colglazier said that for the remaining flights, Virgin Galactic will concentrate on higher revenue opportunities. That includes research, which offers more revenue per seat than private astronauts. He said some seats might be sold to private astronauts who are willing to pay a “premium price” of up to $1 million each, versus the current price of $450,000.

He said the company projected that the Delta-class vehicles will be able to fly twice a week, versus the monthly cadence of Unity flights. With the Delta vehicles able to carry six customers versus four on Unity, each Delta vehicle will be able to produce 12 times as much revenue per month as Unity.

So, Virgin Galactic is going to try to get “private asterisk-nauts” to fork over US$ 1 million to fly to “space”. Blue Origin, which plans to return its New Shepard suborbital vehicle, which actually does fly to space, to flight in November or December 2023 after its launch failure on 2022-09-12, does not quote ticket prices, apparently negotiating individually with customers based upon their means and celebrity status, but is said to have sold two seats in 2022 for US$ 2.5 million, or US$ 1.25 million per seat.