Space tourism pioneer Virgin Galactic Holdings‘ (NYSE:SPCE) stock shed another 5.4% of its market capitalization through 11:11 a.m. EDT Monday morning — partly because investors are still upset that founder Sir Richard Branson is selling his shares, but also partly because of developments outside of the company last week.
Virgin Galactic, as you’ve probably heard by now, has suspended test flights until May. Its rivals in the space tourism market, however, aren’t slowing down one bit. On April 14, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launched its 15th straight successful launch and landing of its New Shepard suborbital space tourism rocket, including simulated passenger embarking and debarking from the rocket’s capsule module.
According to sources interviewed by CNBC, the test flight marked “the second of two ‘stable configuration’ test flights,” and the next time New Shepard goes up, it will be carrying crew aboard — with passengers soon to follow. In a social media post believed to refer to the advent of commercial operations, Jeff Bezos announced, “It’s time.”
Just three days later, NASA announced that it has awarded SpaceX a contract to use its new Starship spacecraft (once it’s proven flightworthy) to carry astronauts to the moon and back — a strong statement in support of the space agency’s belief that Starship will be safe to carry humans to space in the near future.
In short, the two biggest potential rivals to Virgin Galactic’s plans to build a space tourism empire both had very good weeks last week — while Virgin Galactic itself went nowhere. While it’s possible that this momentum could reverse with a successful resumption of Virgin’s test flights next month, for now, it’s pretty clear why investors might be thinking that Virgin Galactic is now losing the race to space.
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