Virgin Galactic Retires Unity, Plans Bigger Replacement


Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity space tourism vehicle has been retired after its seventh flight on Saturday, and it will be at least two years before replacement craft are ready. Unity took a pilot and four passengers to an altitude of 54.4 miles, just shy of the Kármán line (62 miles) commonly considered to the be the edge of space. It was Unity’s seventh passenger flight in less than a year and has served its purpose, according to arstechnica. “The learnings we have built over our last seven space flights have enormously benefited our spaceship design,” the science publication quoted Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier as saying in a recent earnings call. “In addition, we have also learned a great deal about the performance of our mothership, VMS Eve.”

Virgin Galactic is now building two larger vehicles it calls the Delta-class. They will seat six passengers and are designed to be more quickly turned around for their next flight. It hopes to begin flying them in 2026 but won’t get major structures for them until later this year, according to arstechnica. At the same time Virgin Galactic is taking a hard look at its launch aircraft Eve. The 20-year-old purpose-built aircraft can now manage just one flight a month, but a new maintenance plan is targeting up to three flights a week.

All this is required to get the program to the break-even point. Virgin Galactic now loses hundreds of millions of dollars a year and has a backlog of 600 advance customers who bought tickets for $250,000 to $450,000. Once they’ve had their ride, the company will raise prices to $600,000 a seat and try to fly 750 people a year for total revenue of $450 million. If that works out, the company will add more vehicles and a second launch plane to expand the business to profitability.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Operative phrase of the entire story is in the last sentence: “If that works out”. Truly disappointing for the “engine that could” but maybe at this point in time no longer can. For your sake Richard Branson I hope I’m wrong and I hope you can tell me so in 20 years or so. By that time I’ll be 95 years old and the Karman line will look like the initial Wright Flyer landing zone.

  2. Given the details provided, here’s an AI analysis of Virgin Galactic’s potential for financial success:

    Key Points:

    * Current Losses: Hundreds of millions per year.
    * Customer Backlog: 600 customers with tickets at $250,000-$450,000.
    * Future Pricing: $600,000 per seat, aiming for $450 million annual revenue with 750 passengers.

    * Operational Goals: Increase from one flight a month to three flights a week with new Delta-class vehicles by 2026.


    * Market Demand: Strong initial demand, but higher prices may limit future customers.
    *Safety and Risk: Safety concerns and vehicle transitions may affect confidence.
    *Operational Challenges: Ambitious increase in flight frequency; potential delays and cost overruns.

    Financial Success Chances:

    * Optimistic (40-50%): Successful operational goals and strong demand.
    * Moderate (20-30%): Partial operational success, moderate demand, some delays.
    * Pessimistic (10-15%): Significant operational and market challenges.

    * Realistic Estimate: 20-30% chance of financial success considering pricing, market share, and operational risks.

    20 years from now, I’ll be 101.

    Good luck, Richard!

    • Reminds me of the FAA insisting on calling flight students “learners” rather than “students,” which I as an old guy abhor: Such stilted language doesn’t add anything to our comprehension of the process. I’ll discuss it with my 11 year old grandson “learner” and see what he says…

      • The whole “learners” thing seems backward to me. In business, the boss is the employER, while the worker bees are employEES. So, it would seem that a learnER would be a teacher or instructor and the student would be a learnEE. But then, we are talking about government here. 😑

  3. Something not mentioned is the possibility of passengers and payloads that are not just tourists. Hopefully they can leverage some capabilities to expand their portfolio beyond just carrying wealthy thrill seekers.

    There is probably a shocking number of people who can and will pay to fly with them.

  4. Raf, did your AI take into account the non-zero probability of a fatality? In such an endeavor, RUDs are not statistically insignificant. Not as common as “cost overruns”, but far more significant to the bottom line.

    • Yes. 10-15% risk. Too high for comfort, it would affect the company’s ability to raise funds and secure financial backing. Additionally, the financial implications of a RUD event could be severe, including costs associated with investigations, legal liabilities, and rebuilding efforts.

  5. “… [7.6 miles] shy of the Kármán line (62 miles) commonly considered to the be the edge of space.” Wait, WHAT? These people paid a quarter to half a million to take a flight to the edge of space but now we hear they are NOT getting there???

    “… Virgin Galactic now loses hundreds of millions of dollars a year and has a backlog of 600 advance customers who bought tickets for $250,000 to $450,000.” With perhaps 210 million dollars in advance ticket sales (600*$350k avg) but “hundreds of millions of dollars per year” in losses, I’d think pre-paid customers would be very, very concerned they may never get the trip they’ve paid for. Just look at the financial disaster that was Virgin Orbit.

  6. To me, Virgin Galactic is the most exciting space tourist operation ever. They’ve brought sub orbital spaceflight within reach, even if only for the very well to do customers.
    I’m sorry to see any company fall on hard times, but I feel a deeper ache when I see what they’ve gone through and the costs that lie ahead. It’s been a great adventure and I’ve enjoyed it from afar.
    Godspeed Virgin Galactic, I wish I could be your next mega investor.

  7. The thing that troubles me about their plan is that they want to take a 20 year old launch aircraft that requires a month for maintenance, inspections and refitting and somehow transform the process so the plane can fly three times a week. Unless the holdup has been the Unity vehicle and not the plane, i don’t see how that is going to work. Even SpaceX isn’t that good!