Virgin Galactic teams up with Nasa on supersonic air travel

Agreement to develop high Mach vehicles for use in civil and commercial aviation

Virgin Galactic SpaceshipTwo Unity flys free in the New Mexico Airspace for the first time on Friday, May 1, 2020. Virgin Galactic's spaceship VSS Unity has landed in the New Mexico desert after its first glide flight from Spaceport America. The company announced Friday's flight on social media, sharing photos of the spaceship. (Virgin Galactic via AP)
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Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, signed an agreement with Nasa to develop high-speed technologies for point-to-point air travel around the world.

Virgin Galactic and its subsidiary The Spaceship Company signed the Space Act Agreement with Nasa to produce technically feasible, high Mach (several times faster than the speed of sound) vehicles for use in civil aviation, the company said on Tuesday.

"We see this as an area with tremendous growth potential that we will continue to invest in, alongside our commercial space flight operations," George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic Holdings, said.

The agreement will "allow our organisations to take advantage of new tools, techniques, and technologies developed over the past 50 years and to explore potential new solutions for the commercial aviation industry", James Kenyon, director of the Nasa Aeronautics Advanced Air Vehicles Programme, said.

Virgin Galactic, along with its industry partners, is seeking to "develop a vehicle for the next generation of safe and efficient high speed air travel, with a focus on customer experience and environmental responsibility," it said.

The announcement comes after Virgin Galactic recorded a first quarter loss of $60 million (Dh220.3m), a 40.8 per cent increase on the $42.6m loss in the same period last year.

The company said it has maintained a "strong cash position", with cash and equivalents on its balance sheet standing at $419m as of March 31, 2020.

Virgin Galactic also said it is monitoring the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the company’s full year financial results and test flight programme will depend on future developments, such as the ultimate duration and scope of the outbreak, the timing and impact of future stay-at-home orders and other government mandates, and the pace at which the company can resume normal course operations," it said.