Virgin Galactic stock up over 25 percent after successful test flight

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Capitalists in space

Shares of Virgin Galactic soared more than 25 percent in premarket trading Monday morning after the company completed its first spaceflight in over two years. 

The successful test flight, which was completed Saturday, saw the company’s VSS Unity spacecraft hurtle to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere carrying two pilots for the first time.

It launched from its homeport in New Mexico — dubbed Spaceport America — with the help of a carrier craft, before igniting its rocket and accelerating to three times the speed of sound, the company said. 

The ship reached an altitude of just over 55 miles above sea level before performing a microgravity backflip and gliding through the atmosphere. It successfully landed back at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The successful launch helps put the Sir Richard Branson-founded space tourism company back on track toward commercial operations after substantial delays in recent months. 

Those delays helped slash the stock price substantially earlier this year. Shares of the company peaked in February at almost $60 per share before a delayed test flight hurt investor appetite. Then subsequent sell-offs of stock by chairman Chamath Palihapitiya and Branson sent shares down even further. 

Last week, the stock was trading as low as $17 per share before news of Saturday’s launch piqued investor interest. Shares were last seen trading in the premarket at about $26.50 per share. 

The stock was up as much as 36 percent at one point Monday in the premarket before paring some of those gains. 

Saturday’s test flight was a redo of one in December that was cut short by an electromagnetic interference issue. The company will need to conduct at least two more test flights, which haven’t yet been scheduled, to win key licenses from regulators. 

One of those future test flights is expected to carry Branson to space. The company has forecast that it could begin carrying paying customers to space as soon as next year. 

But Virgin Galactic faces fierce competition. Elon Musk-owned SpaceX is expected to send billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman and three others to space as soon as September. The company could send three businessmen to the International Space Station as soon as January of next year, too.

And Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is planning to launch its first crewed flight on July 20. It’s already begun accepting bids for the first commercial seat on its flights.

Virgin Galactic has reached space twice before, most recently in February 2019. But Saturday’s launch was the company’s first in New Mexico, where taxpayers have invested over $200 million in the development of the facility, called Spaceport America. Branson and then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, pitched the plan for Spaceport America.

Richardson was in attendance Saturday to watch the flight from the ground. 

“It’s finally a great day after all of us taking a lot of heat — mainly me — over a period of time,” Richardson said, according to the Associated Press. “But it’s happened. It’s successful.”

With Post wires

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