Virgin Galactic to become first space-tourism company to go public

Billionaire Richard Branson’s space-tourism venture, Virgin Galactic, plans to go public by the end of this year as part of a deal with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) created by venture-capital firms Social Capital and Hedosophia, the companies said on Tuesday.

The SPAC, Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp, will take a 49% stake in Virgin Galactic, valuing the deal at pro forma enterprise value of $1.5 billion.

“Delighted to share that @VirginGalactic has taken a huge step to becoming the first ever publicly listed human spaceflight company,” Branson said in a message to his 12.6 million followers on Twitter.

“As we look back on the decade of Apollo with wonder and gratitude, I believe we can do so with the excitement that comes from knowing we are at the dawn of a new space age.”

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

After Branson founded the company in 2004, his ambitious timeline for taking customers into space suffered delays and a fatal setback when the original SpaceShipTwo crashed on a test flight in 2014 that killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot.

Virgin Galactic in February soared to the edge of space with a test passenger for the first time, nudging the company closer to its goal of suborbital flights for space tourists.

“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.

The deal was earlier reported by the Wall Street Journal, which said the SPAC will invest about $800 million in Virgin Galactic for a 49% stake.