Boeing has filed a lawsuit against Virgin Galactic, accusing it of keeping trade secrets that the two companies exchanged while working on a new spacecraft that is still under development, Gizmodo reports.

Boeing has asked a federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, to issue a court order prohibiting Virgin Galactic from further using data exchanged between the two companies as part of a 2022 deal.

Boeing accuses Virgin Galactic of “retaining, using, and threatening to further use trade secrets” belonging to the company and its subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences.

In July 2022, Virgin Galactic announced an agreement with Aurora to develop and manufacture its next-generation mothership. The launch vehicle is used to transport the spacecraft and release it at an altitude of 13,500 meters above the Earth.

Virgin Galactic is in the process of developing a next-generation spaceplane called Delta, which will transport space tourists to suborbital altitudes.

The company is also working on a modernized version of Eve, Virgin Galactic’s current base model. This improved version should be faster to produce and easier to maintain, which will help the company expand its operations.

Virgin Galactic wants to start flight testing the first Delta spacecraft in 2025, and commercial flights on the new vehicle to begin in 2026. It is not yet clear at what stage the company is with the new design of the mothership, but cooperation with Aurora in this direction has been terminated.

The lawsuit alleges that Virgin Galactic retained the intellectual property related to the development of the ship by refusing to fulfill a contractual promise to destroy two sets of trade secrets.

“Boeing developed these trade secrets over decades of engineering, testing, building, and flying aircraft,” the complaint read. “Virgin Galactic’s ongoing, unauthorized retention and use of these trade secrets to develop a new Mothership deliberately deprives Boeing and Aurora of their exclusive property rights and imposes irreparable harm by risking exposure to other competitors, after which the information cannot retain its secret status.”

Virgin Galactic says it does not agree with the lawsuit and will defend itself in court.

The Virgin Galactic space venture began commercial flights last summer, with the first crew taking off on June 29, 2023. Virgin Galactic’s seventh commercial flight recently launched in January, when for the first time all four seats aboard the VSS Unity spacecraft were occupied by private astronauts.

Virgin Galactic hopes to generate greater profits from its Delta vehicle, as each spaceplane costs between US$50 million and US$60 million and is designed to fly 500 times.

With six passengers on board, each paying US$450,000 per ticket, this adds up to US$2.7 million in revenue for each flight, while operating costs for each flight are around US$400,000.