Virgin Galactic soars 18% after Richard Branson said he aims to reach space 9 days before Amazon boss Jeff Bezos

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson (left) and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos.

Virgin Galactic Holdings shares rose as much as 18% in Friday’s pre-market trading session after founder Richard Branson said he will travel on the spaceflight company’s next test flight, scheduled for July 11, nine days before Jeff Bezos’ planned trip to space.

The company’s stock was changing hands at $51.18 per share at 9:34 a.m. ET, compared with $43.19 at Thursday’s close. Its share price has gained 82% so far this year, and is up 165% over the past 12 months.

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Branson will be joined by five crew mates on the winged rocket-powered VSS Unity spacecraft, including two pilots, as he puts the “private astronaut experience” through its paces, the company said in a statement.

“I’ve always been a dreamer,” Branson said in a tweet on Thursday. “My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars. On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next @VirginGalactic spaceflight.”

Virgin Galactic expects to carry out another two test flights before launching commercial service in 2022. The company plans to take tourists on flights into space, and it has developed spacecraft to do this.

It has already received reservations for about 600 spaceflight tickets and collected over $80 million in “future astronaut deposits” as of March 31, according to an SEC filing. It plans on reopening sales after Branson’s flight.

Virgin Galactic’s share price has been buffeted by events, getting a boost from the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to award it a license for space flights recently, but also taking a hit from a double downgrade of the stock by Bank of America Securities this week.

Branson’s announcement came hours after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Thursday on Instagram that barrier-breaking female aviator, Wally Funk, will accompany him on his space trip on July 20. Mark Bezos, the billionaire’s brother, will also be on board the first human flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith downplayed Branson’s plans, telling the New York Times on Thursday that the Virgin Galactic spaceflight won’t fly as high as the Bezos spacecraft.

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