Virgin Galactic currently has one carrier aircraft, or “mothership,” called VMS Eve that is about 14 years old and is undergoing a lengthy refurbishment. The jet-powered mothership plays a key role in Virgin Galactic’s flights by carrying the company’s spacecraft up to about 50,000 feet altitude to launch.
The company said the new motherships are an evolution of the VMS Eve design and will each support up to 200 launches a year. Virgin Galactic currently has two spacecraft in its fleet, VSS Unity and VSS Imagine, and says the former can launch 12 times a year and the latter 26 times a year. But the company’s coming “Delta class” of spacecraft would fly as often as once a week, necessitating multiple motherships to support launches.
“Our next generation motherships are integral to scaling our operations. They will be faster to produce, easier to maintain and will allow us to fly substantially more missions each year,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement.
A Virgin Galactic spokesperson declined to disclose the deal’s financial terms. Aurora began designing the motherships with Virgin Galactic early this year and will start production immediately. The first carrier aircraft is expected to enter service in 2025.
Like that of other development-stage space companies, Virgin Galactic’s stock has been hit hard in 2022, with its shares down more than 50% year to date. Earlier this year Virgin Galactic delayed the beginning of its commercial space tourism to the first quarter of 2023, with the company’s refurbishment program expected to be finished in about two months.