Richard Branson’s spaceflight business Virgin Galactic has announced that recent analysis highlighted safety concerns around the strength of materials used in its rocket ships, forcing delays to its commercial manned launches.

In a statement on Thursday, the company said it would begin a planned enhancement program and that its next test flight would be delayed until after the work had been completed.

The document stated that recent tests had highlighted concerns about materials used in the spacecraft. “One of these recent laboratory-based tests flagged a possible reduction in the strength margins of certain materials used to modify specific joints, and this requires further physical inspection,” it read.

The enhancement program will “further increase margins that will enable improved reliability, durability and reduced maintenance requirements” when it begins running commercial space flights. 

The firm’s commercial service is now expected to be delayed until late 2022.The process of improving and refitting the spacecraft is expected to take between eight and 10 months, a spokesperson told CNBC.

“The re-sequencing of our enhancement period and the Unity 23 flight underscores our safety-first procedures,” Michael Colglazier, company CEO, said in the statement.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had grounded Branson’s spaceflight firm after it learned that the July flight that carried the firm’s boss had deviated from its designated course. In September, Virgin Galactic was cleared to return to flight after the FAA completed its investigation.

Virgin Galactic stock opened 15% down on Friday morning following news of the delay.

On Wednesday, legendary television and film actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the original science-fiction series ‘Star Trek’, became the oldest person to visit space as he flew aboard a Blue Origin rocket – a Virgin Galactic competitor.

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