Virgin Galactic to blast off on stock exchange

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July 09, 2019
Virgin galactic
Photo: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is about to blast off on the bourse to become the first publicly-traded space tourism company.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the company founded by Sir Richard Branson has done a deal with a special-purpose investment company founded by a former Facebook executive.

The Journal quotes sources as saying Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings (SPAC) is planning to invest $US800 million in Virgin Galactic for a 49 percent stake.

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This is expected to give galactic enough capital to fund the business until it can begin operating profitably.

Branson is in a race with fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to get a private foothold in space, although both the Amazon boss and the Tesla founder have broader ambitions than space tourism.

Galactic has already convinced about 60 people to spend about $US80 million to secure seats on its vehicles and has reportedly raised about $US1 billion since it was founded in 2004.

SPAC was founded by Chamath Palihapitiya and is described as a “blank check company, which engages in merging, share exchange, asset acquisition, stock purchase, reorganization, and similar business combination with one or more businesses”.

The Journal said talks between Palihapitiya and Branson began after he walked away from negotiations with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Branson earlier this year announced that the Galactic’s development and testing program had advanced sufficiently to move staff and space vehicles from the test site in Mojave, California, to the commercial headquarters, dubbed Spaceport America, in New Mexico.

Work completed on the sci-fi-style complex includes the hangar offices, fuel farm, warehouse and antenna for telemetry and communications,

The company said it would reposition its carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, and spaceship VSS Unity once cabin interiors and other work had been completed by manufacturer The Spaceship Company.

It said the final tests flights would be completed from New Mexico ahead of the launch of full commercial service for passengers and research payload.

Production of the spaceships will remain in California.

Virgin also has a satellite launch company, Virgin Orbit, that focuses on boosting small satellites into orbit using the air-launched Launcher One.