Virgin Galactic delays space tourism liftoff 

Virgin Galactic flagged an 'EMI issue that needs resolution'

Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. announced Thursday that it has postponed test flights for its rocket-powered spaceflight program for two months in order to address technical issues, further delaying its promise of commercial flights.

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The space tourism venture, founded by Richard Branson, told investors in an earnings call that its second and third test flights will be pushed until at least May after the company effectively addresses the technical issues stemming from its Dec. 12 flight.

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The last attempt in December was cut short when computer trouble prevented the spaceship’s rocket from firing properly. Instead of soaring toward space, the ship and its two pilots were forced to make an immediate landing by gliding back down to the runway at the desert outpost in southern New Mexico.

On Thursday, the company said it's confident that the issue was "likely caused by electromagnetic interference or EMI."

Virgin will now delay its February launch "to mitigate it further" before future flights, Mike Moses, Virgin Galatic president of space missions and safety, told investors.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (SS2), the world's first commercial spaceline, lands at Moojave airport after successfully completing it's third rocket-powered supersonic flight. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

"Our safety culture is built around the principle that everyone in the company has the ability to call attention to an issue," Moses said. "And that’s exactly the right approach when you’re dealing with human spaceflight."

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Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said that once the problem is addressed, Virgin Galactic intends to "return to the test flight program sequence that we previously communicated."

Colglazier estimates that the problem will take approximately eight weeks to nine weeks, "which suggests our next test flight will be in May."

"When we see something that isn’t quite right, we tackle it hard and we fix it and then we move forward. And that’s what we’re doing," he said.

Virgin Galactic has reached space twice before — the first time from California in December 2018. In June, Virgin Galactic marked its second successful glide flight over Spaceport America.

The company has yet to announce a firm date for its first commercial flight.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.