Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space tourism venture to go public

Mubadala Investment Company-backed venture would be the first space tourism entity to be listed

Virgin Galactic's manned space tourism rocket plane SpaceShipTwo lands at Mojave Air and Space Port after returning from a space test flight in Mojave, California, U.S., December 13, 2018. Virgin Galactic/Handout via REUTERS.  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO ARCHIVES, NO SALES.
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Billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which is backed by Mubadala Investment Company, plans to go public as part of a merger deal with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings to become the world's first listed space tourism venture.

The New-York listed Social Capital Hedosophia, a special purpose acquisition company, will take a 49 per cent stake in the combined entity, the companies said yesterday.

The enterprise value of the new company is $1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) and the transaction is expected to be completed in the second half of the year.

"Great progress in our test flight programme means that we are on track for our beautiful spaceship to begin commercial service," Mr Branson said yesterday. "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."

In February, Virgin Galactic soared to the edge of space with a test passenger for the first time.

Virgin Galactic will become the first publicly listed spaceflight company later this year as part of the deal. The merger will help Virgin Galactic get the funding needed to commercialise human space flight. The company has raised more than $1bn since it was founded in 2004.

"We believe it will offer us the financial flexibility to build a thriving commercial service and invest appropriately for the future," George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said.

Social Capital Hedosophia founder and chief executive Chamath Palihapitiya will invest an additional $100 million in the transaction and will become chairman of the merged entity.

The holding company was formed by Mr Palihapitiya's Social Capital and venture capital Hedosophia in 2017.

Virgin Galactic’s existing management will remain in place, headed by Mr Whitesides, following the close of the transaction.

A new board, comprised of seven directors, will be formed with Mr Palihapitiya as chairman.

“It is a privilege to partner with Sir Richard Branson, a once-in-a-generation visionary, to bring the reality of commercial space flight to the world,” Mr Palihapitiya said. “We are confident that VG is light years ahead of the competition.”

Credit Suisse was capital markets adviser while Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom were legal adviser to Social Capital Hedosophia. M Klein and Company served as financial adviser to Virgin Galactic and Virgin Group for the merger. LionTree Advisers and Perella Weinberg Partners were financial advisers to the company to raise capital alternatives. Latham & Watkins acted as Virgin Galactic and Virgin Group's legal adviser.

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 has said he plans to be the first passenger on SpaceShipTwo's first commercial flight.

Virgin Galactic is in a race against Blue Origin, founded by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, to usher in the age of space tourism.

Virgin Galactic was founded by Mr Branson and is owned by Virgin group and Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Investment Company.

The UAE and Virgin Galactic are working on a bid to operate tourist space flights from Al Ain International Airport in the coming years, Mohammad Al Ahbabi, director of the UAE Space Agency, said in March.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report on Virgin Galactic's plans to go public.