It is now official that the first publicly-traded company that primarily deals with space tourism will come to market this year. Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s space-tourism venture founded in 2004, is preparing for take-off as a publicly-traded company. Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp (SCH) is set to acquire 49% of Virgin Galactic.
The Cayman Islands shell company was founded in 2017 by venture capitalists led by Chamath Palihapitiya. It aimed to take highly-valued start-ups public while avoiding the disclosures feared by managers of risky ventures.
The deal features an investment of about $800 million and will fund its spaceships until profitability is achieved. The company expects that the venture will turn profitable annually by 2021 after flying its first customers within a year. This investment comes as the nascent space tourism sector is still developing its business models.
Eventually, Virgin Galactic will compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. Virgin Galactic has allegedly already sold hundreds of tickets at $250,000 per seat. However, it is yet to take any of these ticket holders on the expected 90-minute trip to space. The company’s passenger spaceplane dubbed the VSS Unity only made its maiden trip to space in December 2018.
The current transaction between Virgin Galactic and Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp will summarize in the second half of 2019 after the normal approvals.
This type of acquisition shell, billed by SCH as “IPO 2.0,” is often known as “blank check” company. Investors are unaware of what they will get when they sign on but the deal has to be approved by a plurality of shareholders. Palihapitiya will invest $100 million into Virgin Galactic to become the new firm’s chairman. SCH partner Adam Bain, a former Twitter executive, will also join the board.
In February 2019, Virgin Galactic sent two pilots and the company’s astronaut instructor demonstrating how full commercial operations will work. The company’s rocket-plane can carry seven people and it says that some 600 future passengers have already paid $250, 000 for their tickets translating into $80 million in ticket deposits.
Virgin Galactic anticipates earnings of $600 million by 2023 which is when the managers expect operations to ‘achieve scale.’ According to Palihapitiya, this deal will enable “the average person a chance to own a bit of space.”
The public will have to wait to see the business with the transaction-enabling Virgin Galactic to avoid the disclosure of years of financial data needed in a normal IPO. After the deal is closed, some information could be released as part of regular public filings. The company may also decide to release some information before SCH’s shareholders vote to approve the deal.