Updated at 4:50 p.m. EST with SEC filing details.
WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic announced July 6 that it has signed an agreement with a Boeing subsidiary to build two new aircraft that will be used as launch platforms for its next-generation suborbital spacecraft.
Virgin Galactic said Aurora Flight Sciences will build two carrier aircraft, or motherships, that will succeed the original WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, called VMS Eve, which it used to carry SpaceShipTwo vehicles aloft during suborbital spaceflight. The companies did not disclose the value of the contract, but according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the contract includes a mix of fixed-price and time-and-materials work orders, with incentives for Aurora if it completes the aircraft on time, under budget, or with improved performance.
Aurora will manufacture aircraft components at its plants in Columbus, Mississippi, and Bridgeport, West Virginia. Final assembly of the aircraft will take place at Virgin’s production facility in Mojave, California. The first plane is expected to enter service in 2025, but the companies did not specify when the second plane will be completed. The contract also includes delivery of a static test item that Virgin Galactic can use for structural integrity analyzes without taking the planes out of service, according to the SEC filing.
Virgin Galactic has released some technical details about the new planes. The company described them as easier to maintain than WhiteKnightTwo, which was built by Scaled Composites and began flying in 2008. This aircraft is currently under extended maintenance at Mojave for repairs and other upgrades. which company officials say will improve its reliability and increase its theft rate.
“Our next-generation motherships are an integral part of scaling our operations. They will be faster to produce, easier to maintain and will allow us to fly many more missions each year,” Virgin Galactic chief executive Michael Colglazier said in a statement. The company said each aircraft will be designed to support up to 200 launches per year.
Aurora Flight Sciences, based in Manassas, Virginia, was founded in 1989 and was acquired by Boeing in 2017. Although the company is best known for its work on remotely piloted aircraft and urban air mobility, it also produces components for drones, helicopters and businesses. jets.
“Aurora’s decades of experience in aircraft design, composite manufacturing and vehicle integration, coupled with our world-class manufacturing engineers and technicians, enable us to provide the unique expertise and capabilities needed to complete these next-generation aircraft,” Per Beith, president and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, said in the deal release.
The first of two planes will be ready around the time Virgin Galactic plans to introduce its new Delta-class suborbital vehicles. As with the new aircraft, the company plans to work with what it calls “tier one” aerospace manufacturers to produce the Delta-class spaceplanes, with final assembly at a Virgin Galactic facility. The company has yet to reveal who will build these vehicles or the location of this final assembly facility.
VMS Eve, the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, and VSS Unity, the SpaceShipTwo space plane, remain in Mojave for extended maintenance. Virgin Galactic said those vehicles would return to commercial service in the first quarter of 2023, the same timeline it provided in its May 5 quarterly earnings release. Prior to this publication, the company had planned to resume commercial suborbital flights before the end of 2022.