Virgin Galactic stock rockets 12% higher; worth a look?
A year after lifting founder Richard Branson into orbit, Virgin Galactic orders two new planes to carry its space vehicles aloft. Are the program and the stock back on track?
Virgin Galactic (SPCE) rocketed higher today, or at least its stock did.
Shares of Richard Branson’s space tourism company got a 10% lift when it announced it had contracted with Boeing (BA) subsidiary Aurora Flight Services to build two “motherships” to make its next-gen space planes airborne.
After a decline of more than 84% over the past year, new flights and a firm schedule could lead investors to take a fresh look at the stock. The private space race is highly competitive, but right now Virgin Galactic is the publicly-listed only pure play on space tourism.
Branson in orbit
Almost a year ago, on July 11, 2021, the company’s sole spaceplane Unity carried Branson and a crew into space. Unity and its carrier plane, Eve, have been undergoing maintenance since, according to Space.com.
The next suborbital flight is expected next year, while the new carriers and next-gen space vehicle would fly in 2025. Galactic uses a carrier plane to lift the space vehicle to about 50,000 feet; they then separate and the space plane’s rocket carries it higher.
About a minute later, passengers are free to unbuckle and float around the cabin, according to Virgin’s website.
Tourists would pay $450,000 for the flight, and the company reports a long waiting list.
The space race
Investors may have lifted the stock thinking a firm schedule will again give it an edge. Shares traded as high as $52.76 a year ago, just before the Branson flight. They’ve dwindled to $7.22 today.But analysts so far aren’t impressed, with the average analyst price estimate at $9.14 a year from now. Of 12 analysts covering the stock, according to Yahoo Finance, only two rate the stock a buy. Seven say hold, and three say it will underperform the market.
That’s partly because the competition is fierce. One principal competitor is Blue Origin, which took founder and CEO Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame into space on July 20, 2021. The other is SpaceX, which first took astronauts to the International Space Station in May 2020.
SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, hasn’t yet flown into orbit.
Blue Origin and SpaceX have worked with NASA and have broad goals for their space programs; Branson’s company seems mostly focused on tourism.
The key difference for investors: SpaceX and Blue Origin remain private companies. So at the moment, Virgin Galactic is the only pure stock play on companies launching humans into space.
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