Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 27 November 2020

Mubadala-backed Virgin Galactic to begin trading on Monday in New York

Richard Branson's venture to become the first publicly-traded space tourism company

Virgin Galactic's Spaceflight System as it prepares for flight at Spaceport America in the desert near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. AFP
Virgin Galactic's Spaceflight System as it prepares for flight at Spaceport America in the desert near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. AFP

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which is backed by Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Investment Company, will become the first publicly-listed space tourism company when it begins trading on Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Shareholders approved a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia to create Virgin Galactic Holdings, which will trade under the ticker symbol "SPCE". After the transaction completed on Friday, the business had a market capitalisation of $2.3bn (Dh8.44bn) at close on Friday, Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

"With our proprietary spaceflight system, special airspace access at Spaceport America, globally-recognised brand and broad investor interest, I believe VG is ideally positioned to capitalise on the fast-growing, multibillion-dollar commercial space market and ultimately open space to thousands of new astronauts," Mr Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, said. "We look forward to the future.”

Virgin Galactic grabbed global headlines when it unveiled plans for the first publicly-traded space tourism operator in July. It rivals Elon Musk's SpaceX, with both companies aiming for a market beyond taking wealthy individuals into space: hypersonic travel that drastically cuts down time to fly between cities, as an ancillary to its space tourism business.

The business of space could nearly triple in size to $926 billion by 2040, up from $340bn currently, according to a November 2018 UBS report.

"Today is the start of a new era for the human spaceflight industry," George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said. "Now that VG is a publicly traded company, anyone can invest in a human spaceflight company that is striving to truly transform the market and be part of the excitement of the commercial space industry."

Virgin Galactic, which was founded by Mr Branson and is owned by Virgin group and Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Investment Company, has received more than $450 million of primary proceeds, according to the statement.

The merger will help Virgin Galactic secure the funding needed to commercialise human space flight. The company has raised more than $1bn since it was founded in 2004.

Virgin Galactic has 600 customers — backed by more than $80m in deposits — ready to pay $250,000 each to take the 90-minute flight to the edge of space. Mr Branson said he plans to be the first passenger on SpaceShipTwo’s first commercial flight.

The race for space tourism is heating up with intensifying competition between Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin, founded by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos.

"Increased funding is also pushing the space economy to new heights," the UBS report said. "Private sector investment has surged, and government funding is expected to increase significantly over the next decade. Demand for satellites, rockets and other space technologies is also on the rise, further driving the sector's growth."

Updated: October 27, 2019 01:23 PM

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