Oct 18, 2021
Virgin Galactic today announced that it will now begin its planned enhancement program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity and will conduct the Unity 23 test flight after this work is complete.
The enhancement program is designed to improve vehicle performance and flight-rate capability for VMS Eve and VSS Unity. In preparation for this work, Virgin Galactic has been performing routine tests and analyses to update its material properties database. This data predicts how materials are expected to perform under certain load and environmental conditions and is used to inform the design and manufacturing enhancements that will support increased flight frequency. One of these recent laboratory-based tests flagged a possible reduction in the strength margins of certain materials used to modify specific joints, and this requires further physical inspection.
As is standard in aerospace test and evaluation practices, Virgin Galactic ships are designed to withstand forces that are substantially higher than those experienced in regular use, providing additional margin and layers of safety. The enhancement program is designed to further increase margins that will enable improved reliability, durability and reduced maintenance requirements when in commercial service. While this new lab test data has had no impact on the vehicles, our test flight protocols have clearly defined strength margins, and further analysis will assess whether any additional work is required to keep them at or above established levels. Given the time required for this effort, the Company has determined the most efficient and expedient path to commercial service is to complete this work now in parallel with the planned enhancement program.
Following the enhancement period, the Company intends to complete the vehicle testing program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity, including the planned research test flight with the Italian Air Force, before starting commercial flights.
Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Our decisions are driven by detailed and thorough analysis, and we fly based on the most accurate and comprehensive data available. Virgin Galactic vehicles are designed with significant margins for safety, providing layers of protection that far exceed loads experienced and expected to occur on our flights. The re-sequencing of our enhancement period and the Unity 23 flight underscores our safety-first procedures, provides the most efficient path to commercial service, and is the right approach for our business and our customers. We are deeply appreciative of the Italian Air Force Research Mission and grateful for their continued partnership with us in this test flight program.”
This schedule update is unrelated to the Company’s recent inquiry into a potential defect in a supplier component announced on September 10, 2021, which has been successfully resolved. While the supplied component in question was not on either VMS Eve or VSS Unity, in accordance with safety protocols, Virgin Galactic completed detailed inspections and scans which found all components met quality and safety standards and were ready for flight. The enhancement period is now beginning approximately one month later than anticipated, and commercial service is now expected to commence in Q4 2022.