NEW YORK – Virgin Galactic, owned by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, became on Monday the first space tourism company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange amid great expectations on Wall Street.
The company begins trading on the NYSE after merging with investment company Social Capital Hedosophia, a publicly traded shell company founded by Sri Lankan multimillionaire venture capitalist and former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, who owns 49 percent of the business, while Branson owns 51 percent.
The move into the public trading realm has not been the typical initial public offering process but rather is the result of the merger with Social Capital Hedosophia, which was listed on the NYSE before the merger and which invested some $800 million in Branson’s company.
The resulting firm, the creation of which was completed last week, bearing the name Virgin Galactic Holdings, has about $2.3 billion in capitalization and has the ticker symbol “SPCE.”
Shares of the firm, which previously identified itself as IPOA – the symbol of Palihapitiya’s company – began trading when the market opened at 9:30 am Monday morning at $12.01 and an hour later they had risen in price by about 8 percent, but by the end of the trading session at 4 pm they were down 0.34 percent at $11.75.
To celebrate the start of trading for the new firm, the New York Stock Exchange specially adorned on Monday its facade by hanging an enormous poster for Virgin Galactic and welcomed Branson and company chairman Palihapitiya, along with CEO George Whitesides, to the trading floor.
In a statement, Branson said that Virgin Galactic is positioned to capitalize on the market for space tourism, which he said is growing rapidly and generating millions of dollars in revenue.
He added that the merger was the result of an intense period of work and provides the new firm with a solid basis for bringing its test flight program to fruition and beginning regular passenger flights, along with being able to study future technologies and markets.
“If the public want to dabble a little bit in a spaceship company, own a little bit of a spaceship company, they can now do so,” Branson added.
The landmark event of going public, Virgin Galactic said, means that anyone can now invest in the future of crewed spaceflight and contribute to the benefits for humanity to be realized from it.
Virgin Galactic is competing with Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to develop rockets and space capsules to take tourists into space.
To date, hundreds of people from some 60 countries, including well-known personalities such as actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop singer Justin Bieber, have put down deposits to take one of the firm’s rockets on suborbital flights, although it is not yet clear when the company might begin offering such adventures at the “edge of space” for paying customers.
One of the 90-minute flights, during which passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness along with being able to see the curvature of the Earth and other space wonders, is slated to cost about $250,000.