Virgin Galactic set to launch Richard Branson to space: Why you should care

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CNET 10 July, 2021 - 05:00pm 29 views

When is Richard Branson going into space?

Branson is slated to go into space as soon as July 11 aboard Virgin Galactic's space plane VSS Unity for the company's next suborbital flight, the most high-profile launch since its founding in 2004. Space.comRichard Branson says he isn't racing Jeff Bezos into space with Virgin Galactic launch

Who is sirisha bandla?

Sirisha Bandla who is part of six space travellers aboard 'VSS Unity' of Virgin Galactic will become the second India-born woman to fly into space after Kalpana Chawla. According to a report by the news agency, ANI Sirisha Bandla was born in Andhra Pradesh's Guntur district was brought up in Houston. LivemintSirisha Bandla: India-born woman who is part of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic flight

One crew member, Virgin's chief astronaut instructor, Beth Moses, will be making the trip for the second time. But the star of the show will be the 70-year-old Branson, who has invested over 16 years and more than $1 billion to finally make the short trip to the edge of space, experience weightlessness and gaze upon Earth as only a privileged few hundred other humans have.

But much more is at stake Sunday than just the high-flying dreams of one wealthy media and travel magnate.

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More than a million New Mexico taxpayers, including me, have invested nearly a quarter billion dollars to build Virgin Galactic's home at Spaceport America in the hopes its anchor tenant will create a new industry in the state.

"We couldn't be more excited to finally share this groundbreaking moment with the world," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "The dawn of space tourism is happening right here."

There are also bragging rights to consider, as Branson has scheduled his flight to take place nine days before fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos rides one of his Blue Origin rockets to space for the first time on July 20. Branson has insisted there is no race between himself and Bezos, but the timing is difficult to discount.

Investors will be closely monitoring the test program Branson is participating in Sunday. Virgin Galactic is a publicly traded company worth over $11 billion as of July 6. And of course there are the company's 700 paying customers, who have waited patiently in line, ready to pay over $200,000 each for the ride.

Beyond that, there's a broader vision of easy access to space (or perhaps a planetary escape hatch, depending on your disposition) for humanity. Our species has been sending handfuls of humans to space  for decades, but the rate of growth of the larger program of human spaceflight has been more or less stagnant for a generation or two now. And the possibility of regular civilians making it to space has remained at virtually zero, save for a few who managed to secure a seat by possessing the highest levels of either political or financial privilege.

Now, with Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and also Elon Musk's SpaceX, we are finally on the precipice of moving from quirky one-off space tourists to regular commercial trips to microgravity, orbit and maybe even the moon, Mars and beyond, with some hyperfast point-to-point trips around the globe in between.

"I truly believe that space belongs to all of us," Branson says. "Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind."

Sunday's flight may still be just one rich guy and his employees taking a very high-altitude joyride that will probably be over in under 90 minutes. But it also represents more than that, and it's been a very long road to reach this point.

One of the longest and most arduous roads in history was the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro that linked Mexico City with Santa Fe and other points for nearly three centuries, between 1598 and the late 19th century. The most feared stretch of the over 1,500-mile (2,414-kilometer) journey was the Jornada del Muerto, or Dead Man's Route, north of Las Cruces. This flat, dry and desolate basin is 100 miles long and has been home to basically nothing forever, except now it hosts Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic's commercial spaceflight operations.

More specifically, you'll find New Mexico's publicly funded commercial spaceport near a spot that was once called Aleman. The name (as well as the name of the Jornada del Muerto) comes from a German fugitive who tried crossing the desert in the dry season in 1670. His remains where found, after being picked over and scattered by vultures, not far from the spot where Branson and crew will take off Sunday.

Despite the region's inability to produce much more than suffering over its history, hope somehow still springs from this dusty land. Just as generations traversed it for centuries seeking opportunity and fortune, Virgin Galactic has traveled its own tortured path, all the while keeping the faith that this empty yet quietly beautiful desert valley could be its gateway to a brilliant future.

Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004, and a little over a year later a deal was struck with New Mexico to base the company's commercial flights at the new spaceport, then expected to be completed by 2010. Everything seemed to be off and running. At one point, Branson predicted that Virgin could launch as many as 50,000 passengers to the edge of space in its first decade of operations, by about 2020.

Virgin Galactic aims to eventually launch thousands of passengers per year from Spaceport America.

The Spaceport officially opened in October 2011, but development of Virgin Galactic's unique horizontal launch system was slow-going. Unlike SpaceX or Blue Origin, which put passenger capsules atop vertically launched rockets, Virgin uses a custom carrier aircraft called WhiteKnightTwo that totes SpaceShipTwo, which is essentially a rocket-powered spaceplane, to an elevation where it is released to then ignite and blast its way toward space.

The company was still working to get the required speed and altitude out of SpaceShipTwo when a fatal mishap occurred during a test flight in California in 2014. SpaceShipTwo Enterprise broke apart shortly after ignition of its engine, leaving one co-pilot dead and another seriously injured. More delays and an investigation ensued, but Virgin Galactic was able to resume its test flights with a new SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Unity, by December 2016.

The last five years for Virgin Galactic have been much happier than the previous half decade, even with last year essentially lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. VSS Unity has outperformed its predecessor, carrying Moses as the first person in the passenger cabin in 2019. The company unveiled its astronaut lounge at Spaceport America later that year and also started trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

A series of unveilings -- of its flight suit, passenger cabin and the next-generation SpaceShip III joining the fleet -- have all led up to this Sunday. Branson and crew will take off from the center of the Dead Man's Route, using a forgotten section of dry earth to go places that centuries of miserable visitors to the same valley could scarcely dream of.

The details of Sunday's flight remain about as scarce as a watering hole between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, but we know that liftoff of WhiteKnightTwo is expected about 7 a.m. local time (6 a.m. PT). Based on previous test flights, it will be at least 30 minutes before the carrier craft reaches the altitude where VSS Unity detaches and ignites its rocket engine.

After blasting to an altitude of about 56 miles (90 kilometers) and floating around in microgravity for a bit, the spacecraft will return for a landing at Spaceport America, probably no more than 90 minutes after takeoff.

Virgin Galactic will have a livestream of the mission, dubbed Unity 22, and you can watch it right here. I will also be on the ground at Spaceport America all day Sunday, so you can also get updates and some behind-the-scenes details by following me on Twitter and Instagram @EricCMack.

Follow CNET's 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar. 

Read full article at CNET

4 Stocks to Watch as Space Tourism Looks Ready for Take Off

Yahoo Finance 10 July, 2021 - 12:10am

If you once saw Interstellar or Lost in Space and said, “It ain’t possible,” you should turn on the news to see the first commercial spacecraft take off on Jul 11.

On Jun 25, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted approval to Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.’s SPCE full commercial space-launch license, allowing the company to now take commercial passengers on flights. Virgin Galactic had a successful test flight in May and plans to fly CEO Richard Branson aboard the first fully manned flight of its SpaceShipTwo space plane on Jul 11. Space enthusiasts can watch the livestream on Virgin Galactic.com, Virgin Galactic Twitter, YouTube, and the company’s Facebook channels.

While the flight is not cheap (nearly $250,000 for the ride), it has more than 600 ticket reservations already, per Branson. What’s more, the company plans to make the suborbital tour cheaper by bringing ticket price to around $40,000, as full commercial service begins in 2022.

While the space race in 1960s was a battle between the Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union and the United States, in this new era of space tourism, it is surely the battle of the billionaires. Bezos, Branson, and Musk will soon be carrying paying customers into space. Virgin Galactic did surely downplay Bezos' Blue Origin, which is planning its first flight on Jul 20 but is yet to receive FAA approval. Musk’s SpaceX has already taken a crew to the International Space Station (ISS) and plans its first all-civilian sub-orbital flight in September.

This niche industry holds huge potential and these first flights could determine the journey of future space passengers and the unique experience people expect from space travel. In fact, both Branson and Bezos are counting on their maiden voyages to check cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience, and views of Earth. Virgin Galactic's reusable Space Ship Two system can hold six passengers: two crew and four passengers, while Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket-and-capsule combo takes six passengers and flies autonomously. Musk’s SpaceX Dragon capsule is capable of carrying up to seven people and has an edge over the other two as the mission is expected to last three to four days from launch to splashdown. Whereas Virgin Galactic offers a flight time of around 90 minutes from take-off to landing, which includes several minutes of weightlessness, Blue Origin's capsule suborbital flight is around 10 minutes after separation.

New constellations of satellites are scheduled to enter low-Earth orbit in the coming years and cheaper launches and satellites may finally make the sector more accessible to space travel enthusiasts. Additionally, small satellites are gaining popularity across the globe, for expanding Internet access. In fact, per a Morgan Stanley report, the global space industry could surge to more than $1 trillion by 2040.

The space industry is also witnessing several mergers, acquisitions and initial public offerings. Rocket builder, Astra Space began trading on the Nasdaq on Jun 30 under the ticker ASTR. The company merged with Holicity, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), totaling about $500 million in new capital.

Given the new milestones in space tourism and the scope that the initial full-crew lift-offs bring to the industry, we have shortlisted four stocks that can benefit in the long term .

Northrop Grumman Corporation NOC operates as an aerospace and defense company. The company is currently working on OmegA heavy-lift rocket and received Air Force funding in 2020 to help the country end its reliance on Russian engines used in the Atlas 5 rocket.

The company that belongs to the Zacks Aerospace - Defense industry has a projected earnings growth rate of 3.6% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for this company’s current-year earnings has been revised nearly 1% upward over the past 60 days.  Northrop Grumman holds a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

Raytheon Technologies Corporation RTX is an aerospace and defense company. The company designs, produces, and supports spacecraft cabin interior, communications and aviation systems, oxygen systems, food and beverage preparation, storage and galley systems, and lavatory and wastewater management systems and more.

The company’s expected earnings growth rate for the current year is 37% compared with the Zacks Aerospace - Defense Equipment industry’s projected growth of 4.9%. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for this company’s current-year earnings has been revised 0.8% upward over the past 60 days.  Raytheon carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Teledyne Technologies Incorporated TDY designs sensors that help to power, sense and analyze the chemical composition of the surface and minerals in planetary exploration. This Zacks Rank #3 company’s expected earnings growth rate for the current year is 21.4% compared with the Zacks Aerospace - Defense Equipment industry’s projected growth of 4.9%. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for this company’s current-year earnings has been revised 7.4% upward over the past 60 days. 

Lockheed Martin Corporation LMT is a security and aerospace company that offers satellites and space transportation systems. The company is currently working with NASA to take astronauts to the moon and Mars.

This Zacks Rank #3 company that belongs to the Zacks Aerospace - Defense industry has a projected earnings growth rate of 9.1% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for this company’s current-year earnings has been revised 0.4% upward over the past 60 days.

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Yesterday's downgrade from UBS took Virgin Galactic Holdings (NYSE: SPCE) stock's latest price spike and cut it off at the knees -- limiting the space tourism pioneer's gains to just 3% Tuesday. And here's the thing: With neither profit nor even revenue to provide a valuation argument in favor of its stock price at present, Virgin Galactic's shares basically trade on good news.

As Virgin Galactic finalizes plans for founder Richard Branson to join five others on a test flight to the edge of space on July 11, the British billionaire said his wife may be nervous about the launch but he himself wasn't the least bit afraid. "I've been looking forward to this for 17 years," Branson said in an interview on Tuesday from Spaceport America near the remote town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The launch of Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc's VSS Unity rocket plane over the desert will mark the space tourism company's fourth crewed test mission beyond Earth's atmosphere.

Here is how their rival ventures compare in the race to open up space travel. Bezos, Branson and Musk have been investing billions of dollars in their space startups, each promising to ferry paying customers on rides to space - and it will cost a pretty penny to be part of it. Branson's Virgin Galactic is reported to have more than 600 ticket reservations already, priced around $250,000.

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Shares in so-called meme stocks with a following among retail investors lost ground on Wednesday, with AMC Entertainment shares down 8.1%, on track for their fourth straight day of declines, and GameStop Corp falling 4.9%. AMC, which fell almost 12% in the previous three sessions, hit a record high of $72.62 in early June as members of social media platforms including Twitter and Reddit's WallStreetBets urged each other to buy the stock. The cinema operator, which on Tuesday scrapped a shareholder approval request for an increase in the number of shares outstanding, was trading at $45.91 after breaching its 30-day moving average.

Electric vehicle (EV) company Workhorse Group (NASDAQ: WKHS) recovered some lost stock value last month as it prepares a lawsuit to win back a $482 million U.S. Postal Service (USPS) contract that slipped through its fingers earlier this year. While Workhorse could triumph in the Postal Service legal contest eventually, another sector company looks bullish for EV investors based on its current merits rather than on its hypothetical future successes: Magna International (NYSE: MGA). It has a private sector order for 6,320 electric delivery trucks from Pride Group Enterprises.

Lemonade (NYSE: LMND) was one of the hottest tech IPOs of 2020. Since then Lemonade's stock price tumbled to about $60 by mid-May. The Texas winter storm in February sparked an unexpected surge in insurance claims, while inflation concerns in the broader economy torpedoed frothier growth stocks like Lemonade. Lemonade's stock price has subsequently rebounded above $100 a share again, but is this volatile stock worth buying at these levels?

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Is Virgin Galactic a Smart Long-Term Investment Now? | The Motley Fool

Motley Fool 07 July, 2021 - 05:33am

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Virgin Galactic Holdings (NYSE:SPCE) recently achieved a major milestone in its quest to become the premier space tourism company, as it received Federal Aviation Administration approval to carry passengers, not just run test flights. However, this is still a pre-revenue company with a long and unclear path to profitability. In this Fool Live video clip, recorded on June 25, Fool.com contributor Matt Frankel, CFP, and chief growth officer Anand Chokkavelu discuss whether Virgin Galactic could be a smart long-term investment right now and why it ranked No. 3 out of 10 "meme stocks" in their recent rankings. 

Matt Frankel: I've referred to Virgin Galactic before, as a stock that could do really well when my kids are 40. I think it is just very, very early in that industry. But just to run through some statistics, the stock's trading for about $54 today, it's up big today. There's some big news that we'll get to in a second. $13 billion market cap, 27% short interest, I would not be surprised at all if that short interest fell today. If a lot of what we're seeing is short covering because of this good news. Up 127% year to date. It's actually pretty close to its peak, its peak was $63 a share. Up 25% today alone because they are now the first space travel company that just got a full FAA license to carry passengers. They had a license to operate test flights, which they did successfully in May, I believe. They still have three more test flights planned, but they now have a license to carry passengers into space. That is fantastic news for the business. I don't know if it translates into them being a $13 billion company, which is why I didn't rank them higher. This is still for a long time going to be a very small market. I'm not sure the exact number. Is it $250,000 a seat they're charging on the first flight? It's something in that ballpark.

Anand Chokkavelu: I'm not sure but that sounds right.

Frankel: It's something in that ballpark. There is a very limited group of people who could not only afford that, but who would want to take the risk of going on one of the first few passenger space flights, so it's going to be a very small market at first and by first, I mean for years. This is still a pre-revenue company, they've collected deposits and things like that, but they haven't actually generated any revenue yet. But on the other hand, it's usually a bad idea to bet against Richard Branson. I could say that much. If you just get this historically, he wins. He's a winner. But I like today's news. I do not own the stock. I was thinking about buying it earlier this year when it was in the teens. Missed opportunity. I guess you would say this was Chamath Palihapitiya's first SPAC. This was IPOA for those who don't know the SPAC history. Have you ever seriously considered this for your own portfolio?

Chokkavelu: I bought a basket of the Chamath SPACs, so I've got Virgin Galactic and I've got Clover Health even though neither of them are ones where I'd naturally be hyper-bullish, in a vacuum, partly because of expertise. By the way, Virgin Galactic, even though Richard Branson is a big winner. You're going after Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin and Elon Musk of SpaceX. Whereas like, wow, this is just, you hope that the pie in the space is large enough because, these are all market share eaters.

Frankel: Yeah, I mean, I could see the ultimate goal is obviously to bring the price point down over time, and open this up to a lot more people, and have this be like the Disney World of space, or the Carnival Cruise Lines of space, I guess would be a better comparison. But it's going to take a long time to get it to where space travel is affordable for people like us. I don't know about you. I don't have $250,000 to take a quick flight in the space.

Chokkavelu: I also don't have the courage. 

Frankel: Even if I did, I wouldn't want to be one of the first.

Chokkavelu: I would somehow find $250,000 to not get on that flight. I'd probably owe money though, like maybe get my legs broken or something.

Frankel: I might say build up like a 10-year safety track record and then I would think about it.

Chokkavelu: Right.

Frankel: Prove to me that it's safe. Three test flights does not do that to me. But I like this. I don't know if I'd call it a real business yet because real businesses generate revenue, but it's definitely taking steps in that direction.

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