Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to become first public space company

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to become first public space company

The company already has an agreement in place to raise $800 million through a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings (NYSE: IPOA), which will buy a 49% stake in the new company. The entrepreneur suspended talks on a US$1 billion injection from Saudi Arabia last October following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In December, Virgin Galactic's tourism spaceship climbed 51 miles (82 kilometers) above California's Mojave Desert, reaching for the first time what the company considers the boundary of space.

Branson's space-tourism venture plans to go public as part of a deal with a special goal acquisition company (SPAC) created by Social Capital LP Chief Executive Officer Chamath Palihapitiya, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency.

The founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways and businesses spanning banking to gyms said in May that Virgin Galactic's development and testing program had advanced sufficiently to move its space vehicles and 100 staff to its Spaceport America operational base in New Mexico from a California test center.

Branson himself invested most of the more than $1 billion in capital poured into Virgin Galactic since 2004, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Branson's company is racing against Blue Origin, the space business of Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos, to bring tourists into space.

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Unlike other companies that work in this area, the brainchild of Richard Branson deals exclusively with suborbital launches with the aim of raising tourists into space.

Money raised from the merger will be invested in turning Virgin Galactic's technology into a commercial operation, following two test-flights of its spaceship the VSS Unity.

Branson has said he plans to be the first passenger on SpaceShipTwo's first commercial flight in mid-2019.

A 90-minute flight, which allows passengers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness, costs about $250,000.

More than 600 people in over 60 nations have spent roughly $80 million to reserve seats on Branson's rocketships in hopes of being the first to gain access to this unique new service.

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