Virgin Galactic will be first publicly traded human spaceflight company

9 Jul 2019

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson. Image: Julien Behal

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is gearing up to go public, which will make it the first publicly traded firm devoted to human spaceflight.

Richard Branson’s space tourism venture Virgin Galactic is gearing up to go public.

This development will make Virgin Galactic the first publicly traded company devoted to human spaceflight, beating out Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technology Corp (or SpaceX).

The company will be listing its shares on the New York Stock Exchange amid a minority acquisition made by Social Capital Hedosophia, a special-purpose acquisition firm created by ex-Facebook executive Chamanth Palihapitiya. The Wall Street Journal reports that it plans to invest $800m in Virgin Galactic in exchange for a 49pc stake. This transaction will value Virgin Galactic at $1.5bn.

“By embarking on this new chapter, at this advanced point in Virgin Galactic’s development, we can open space to more investors and, in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts,” Branson said in a statement.

The space travel company expects that this deal will give the business enough capital to keep going until its spaceships can commercially operate and turn a profit. The company has to date raised more than $1bn, much of it coming from Branson himself.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund had previously indicated intent to pour an additional billion dollars into the venture. However, Branson suspended these talks after Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered.

Branson founded the company in 2004 and proposed an ambitious timeline for making space travel a reality. This plan, however, was derailed in 2014 after a previous prototype exploded during a test launch. The crash killed aircraft co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injured pilot Peter Siebold.

Naturally, this caused delays, and it wasn’t until four years later that the company’s VSS Unity aircraft successfully completed a test flight in which it reached almost 83km above Earth’s surface.

Hundreds of people have already pre-emptively booked seats on the first space flights, paying between $200,000 and $250,000 per head, amounting to around $80m in deposits.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic