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Shares in Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc (NYSE:SPCE) soared higher in early trading on Wednesday as the space tourism company moves towards the final stages of its flight test program.

Virgin Galactic, which has only been trading publicly since the Richard Branson-founded company reversed onto the stock market last October, saw its share rise more than 14% to a new high of U$34.65 in early trading, taking their gains since the start of 2020 to more than 180%.

READ: Virgin Galactic set to launch as first publicly listed space tourism company

Sector news overnight from rival SpaceX and Space Adventures, where the two privately owned companies revealed an agreement for SpaceX to carry its first four space tourists, may have provided some extra momentum for Virgin Galactic’s shares.

Virgin Galactic is scheduled to announce results for the fourth quarter next Tuesday, which will provide an update on the number of customer reservations that stood above 600 midway through last year.

US broker TD Ameritrade said trading in Virgin Galactic was among the top names being snapped up by retail investors, with Fidelity saying it was bought more than topping Apple and Tesla.

The latest news from Virgin was earlier this month, when the company relocated its spaceship, VSS Unity, to the company’s new Spaceport America site in New Mexico. 

The final stages of the flight test program for VSS Unity, aka SpaceShipTwo will begin with a number of initial ‘captive carry’ flights, where the spaceship will remain attached to carrier aircraft VMS Eve/WhiteKnightTwo, and some glide flights.

Virgin Galactic said this will allow the new operating base in New Mexico and the spaceflight operations team to familiarise themselves with the airspace and ground control.

Following these tests, a number of rocket-powered test flights will be carried out, along with final spaceship cabin and customer experience evaluations, in preparation for the start of commercial spaceflight operations.

The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s design, testing and manufacturing arm based in Mojave, California, has been making “significant progress” on its next two spaceships thanks to a more efficient, modular assembly process.

The second ship last month achieved the ‘weight on wheels’ milestone, carrying its own weight for the first time, while the third spaceship has completed more than 50% of the structural and system part fabrication.

Virgin Galactic possess a commercial space launch license and, via the VSS Unity spaceplane, is designed to take passengers for a few minutes of weightlessness at the edge of space.

In January last year Unity climbed to an altitude of 55.85 miles (89.9 kilometers), reaching a top speed of three times the speed of sound before turning around and gliding back to Earth and landing safely on a runway.

The statted number customer reservations last year represented approximately $80mln in total collected deposits and $120mln of potential initial revenue.

Names reported to be on the waiting list include Branson himself and his son and daughter Sam and Holly; ex Formula1 driver Rubens Barrichello; Princess Beatrice, aiming to be the first member of the royal family in space; Hollywood heavyweights Bryan Singer and Angelina Jolie; while the first ticket of all was sold to investor Ken Baxter way back in 2004.