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Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson Image Credit: AFP

Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. expects to be flying paying passengers three times monthly in 2023, signaling it’s on track to ramp up commercial flights after delays this year pushed back its space tourism debut timeline.

The company plans to offer as many as three flights a month after it completes upgrades to its carrier airplane and introduces a second spaceship, CEO Michael Colglazier said on Monday on a call with analysts.

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Virgin Galactic told investors last month it would push back the start of commercial flights to the fourth quarter of 2022 as it completes an overhaul of its carrier plane, VMS Eve, which requires new horizontal stabilisers and a redesigned pylon to carry the spaceships to their drop altitude. The company’s spacecraft are dropped from the carrier at about 50,000 feet before igniting a rocket motor and continuing to space.

The startup’s new VSS Imagine spaceship is to begin flight tests in early 2023 and will be flying twice monthly later that year, joining the current VSS Unity ship, which will fly about once per month, Colglazier said.

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The company, which was founded by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, reported third-quarter results on Monday with sales of $2.6 million topping the consensus forecast of analysts. Virgin Galactic narrowed its net loss to $48 million from $92 million in the same period last year. Company shares fell 0.5 per cent in late trading on Monday and have declined about 16 per cent this year.