British billionaire Richard Branson’s space-tourism unit Virgin Galactic plans to go public later this year, the company announced Tuesday.
The firm will list its shares in the second half of 2019 as part of a merger deal with Social Capital Hedosophia, a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) created by venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya.
Social Capital Hedosophia, formed by Palihapitiya’s Social Capital and venture capital firm Hedosophia in 2017, will own a 49% stake in the combined company. The combined firm will have an enterprise value of $1.5 billion, Virgin Galactic said.
The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The Journal earlier reported that Palihapitiya’s SPAC would invest a total of $800 million into Virgin Galactic.
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Branson’s space venture would be the first publicly-listed human spaceflight firm, with the stock market listing slated to take place later this year. The paper also reported that Branson had been in talks with Palihapitiya since Branson suspended talks over a Saudi investment in Virgin Galactic last year.
The billionaire business magnate, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, is currently locked in a tense space race with rivals including Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
Bezos’ space venture is vying to take humans to the moon by 2024, while Musk’s efforts have been less about space tourism and more focused on cargo missions. Musk has however said in the past that it would be “pretty cool” if people paid to go to space on SpaceX’s recently unveiled Crew Dragon ship.
Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, has so far already sold 600 tickets to aspiring astronauts, raking in $80 million in the process. The company’s VSS Unity ship was launched into space with three astronauts on board in February, carrying a test passenger to the edge of space for the first time.
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“Great progress in our test flight program means that we are on track for our beautiful spaceship to begin commercial service,” Branson said in a statement Tuesday.
“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’s bid to achieve human spaceflight hasn’t been without setbacks, however. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suffered a fatal crash in 2014 that killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot.
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Virgin Galactic will be merging with Social Capital Hedosophia, an SPAC. SPACs are publicly-traded investment firms that raise money through an initial public offering to buy an existing company. In Social Capital Hedosophia’s case, Palihapitiya’s SPAC is buying just under half of the company to help it enter the public market.
According to Virgin Galactic, Palihapitiya is also investing $100 million of his own cash into the combined company at $10 per share. Palihapitiya will also become chairman of the group.
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