Billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has reportedly hired bankers to go public via SPAC merger

Virgin Orbit Boeing 747

Billionaire Richard Branson has reportedly hired bankers to take his aerospace company Virgin Orbit public through a special purpose acquisition company merger, aiming for a $3 billion valuation, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

This move is consistent with the billionaire’s strategy of taking his companies public via blank-check listings amid the explosion of SPACs in recent years. SPACs are essentially shell companies seeking to merge with private companies with the intention of taking them public.

The entrepreneur in 2019 took his space-tourism company Virgin Galactic Holdings public via SPAC and enlisted billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya as the chairman. Palihapitiya in early March, however, cashed out his entire personal stake for $211 million.

More recently, VG Acquisition, a SPAC sponsored by Branson’s Virgin Group, announced in February that it has merged with DNA testing startup 23andMe in a deal that would put the company famous for its at-home kits at an enterprise value of $3.5 billion.

Virgin Orbit has hired Credit Suisse Group and LionTree, according to The Wall Street Journal, and is currently looking for a SPAC merger partner.

Branson’s company owns 80% of South Carolina-based Virgin Orbit. Mubadala Investment and the United Arab Emirates sovereign-wealth fund own the remaining stake.

The valuation is not guaranteed but the billionaire is banking on Virgin Orbit’s January test launch, which successfully sent its first rocket to successfully reach Earth orbit, eight months after its previous attempt failed.

SPACs have been around for more than a decade but have since recently boomed. Just three months into 2021, data from SPAC Analytics already show 246 SPACs that raised $76.7 billion versus the 248 in 2020 that raised $83.3 billion.

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Watch a Virgin Orbit rocket successfully launch from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747, marking the latest entrant to the commercial space race

Virgin Orbit Boeing
“Cosmic Girl” departed from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port, carrying a LauncherOne rocket under its wing

  • Virgin Orbit launched its first rocket to successfully reach Earth orbit on Sunday.
  • The rocket launched from a modified Boeing 747 and carried 10 small satellites for NASA.
  • “A new gateway to space has just sprung open!” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit launched its first rocket to successfully reach Earth orbit on Sunday, eight months after its previous attempt failed.

The next step is using the rocket for commercial services, the company said.

Rather than launching the rocket from a traditional launch pad, Virgin Orbit used an “air launch” from under the wing of a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet.

The rocket brought 10 small satellites sponsored by NASA into orbit.

The rocket had “for Eve” printed on the side as a tribute to Eve Branson, Richard Branson’s mother, who passed away earlier this month.

The converted jumbo jet, named Cosmic Girl, launched the LauncherOne rocket while flying over the Pacific Ocean, just under an hour after it departed from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port.

The 70-foot, two-stage rocket then ignited its engine and reached low-Earth orbit at just before 12 p.m. PST.

“Everyone on the team who is not in mission control right now is going absolutely bonkers,” Virgin Orbit tweeted. “Even the folks on comms are trying really hard not to sound too excited.”

Both Gen. Jay Raymond, the Chief of Space Operations at the US Space Force, and Elon Musk, CEO of rival aerospace company SpaceX, tweeted their congratulations.

Read more: The space industry will grow by over $1 trillion in the next decade, Bank of America says. Here are the 14 stocks best positioned to benefit from the boom.

Cosmic Girl had already flown more than 8,000 flights, carrying about 2.5 million passengers, since it was first procured by Virgin Atlantic in 2001. The jet and its crew landed safely back at Mojave later that afternoon.

The 10 satellites, or CubeSats, launched into orbit were part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, and nearly all were designed, built, and tested by American universities.

“A new gateway to space has just sprung open!” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a press release.

“Even in the face of a global pandemic, we’ve maintained a laser focus on fully demonstrating every element of this revolutionary launch system.”

“Virgin Orbit has achieved something many thought impossible,” Branson added, calling it “the culmination of many years of hard work.”

Following the successful test launch, the company will officially transition into commercial service for its next mission, it said. Customers who have already booked launches with Virgin Orbit include the US Space Force, the UK Royal Air Force, and Swarm Technologies.

The company’s first test launch in May 2020 successfully dropped a rocket from a jumbo jet and ignited it, but its launch failed after an onboard computer lost connection.

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