Virgin Galactic announces preparations for its first spaceflight, investors unconvinced

A lack of specific dates for lift-off knocked share prices.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Virgin Galactic has announced preparations for its first spaceflight but a lack of concrete dates appeared to have knocked investor confidence. 

On Wednesday, the British space firm, founded by Richard Branson and Burt Rutan, said in an update that the flight should take place "later this fall."

Due to launch from Virgin Galactic's base at Spaceport America in New Mexico, the flight will be crewed by two pilots and will carry three research payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which brings together scientists, academics, and aerospace organizations to conduct research designed to tackle space challenges -- and commercial opportunities. 

See also: Virgin Galactic optimistic about the future opportunities in space

The payloads will be carried in the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, the first vehicle built for Virgin Galactic by The Spaceship Company. 

Virgin Galactic has a number of pre-flight tests to complete first. Pilots are training in simulators on the ground and are also undergoing tests in the cockpit of the firm's carrier mothership, VMS Eve.  

Practice runs are also planned which will check everything from system functions to landing gear. A "full rehearsal" is due to take place at the Virgin Galactic base, which includes the same tank tests such as helium and nitrous oxide loading that will occur when the VSS Unity is launched. 

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While Virgin Galactic intends to conduct its first spaceflight in fall and says that "we are still on track to meet this timeframe," specific dates for VSS Unity or VMS Eve test flights have not been disclosed.

"Although preparations are going well, we are not quite at the stage where we can confirm specific planned flight dates for either our VSS Unity or VMS Eve test flights," the company said. 

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The news appears to have eroded investor confidence, with stocks sliding by 2.20% to $21.33 on market close. In September, stocks surged by 25% following buy recommendations from Wall Street. 

Last year, Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough told ZDNet that the emerging commercial spaceflight market has the potential to create job opportunities and will also benefit other sectors. 

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