Virgin Galactic Sees Departure of Chief Legal Officer & Director of Safety as Company Fights Lawsuits

Michelle Kley (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic has seen the departures of its director of safety and chief legal officer over the past month.

Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel Michelle Kley is leaving Virgin Galactic as of July 19 after two years and seven months with the company. She will become chief legal officer at Volta, a company that runs an electric vehicle charging network.

Her departure comes as Virgin Galactic battles lawsuits from unhappy shareholders who claim to have lost money since the company went public more than 2.5 years ago.

Kley joined Virgin Galactic as executive vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and secretary in December 2019. She previously served as senior vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and secretary at Maxar Technologies from July 2016 to March 2019.

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Richard Branson & Chamath Palihapitiya Sued Over Alleged Insider Trading of Virgin Galactic Stock

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and former chairman Chamath Palihapitiya are facing a shareholder lawsuit claiming they profited from selling shares while the stock was artificially inflated and known flaws in the company’s space tourism vehicles were hidden. Yahoo News reports:

The investor lawsuit, filed February 21 by Virgin Galactic shareholder Thomas Spiteri, seeks damages from the space travel company’s directors and others in management.

Palihapitiya took advantage of his role as company chairman to sell 10 million shares for $315 million on “inside information” before he abruptly left his role last month, the derivative action alleges.

Virgin Galactic founder Branson sold 16 million shares for about $458 million while the stock was “artificially inflated,” the complaint said.

Palihapitiya’s Social Capital Hedosophia, a blank check company that was already traded on the New York Stock Exchange, took Virgin Galactic through a merger in October 2019. He served as Virgin Galactic’s chairman before abruptly resigning on Feb. 18, four days before the company’s quarterly earnings call.

Chamath Palihapitiya Steps Down as Virgin Galactic Chairman to Spend More Time with Other SPACs

Chamath Palihapitiya (Credit: SCH)
  • Departure comes four days before quarterly & full year earnings call
  • Silicon Valley billIionaire took company public in October 2019 through merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC)
  • Sold $100 million personal investment for $313 million
  • Continues to own Virgin Galactic shares through Social Capital Hedosophia

TUSTIN, Calif., February 18, 2022 (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”) announced today that, effective immediately, Chamath Palihapitiya will step down as chairman and as a member of its Board of Directors to focus on other public company board commitments. As part of the announcement, the Board appointed Director Evan Lovell as Interim Chairman until a new chair is in place.

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Chamath Palihapitiya Comments on Chinese Human Rights Abuses Embarrasses Virgin Galactic

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Well, this isn’t good for Virgin Galactic or the Virgin brand it represents. Gizmodo reports:

Chamath Palihapitiya, the chairman of Virgin Galactic and CEO of Social Capital, doesn’t care about the plight of Uyghurs—a Muslim-majority ethnic group that’s faced persecution by the Chinese government. Numerous reports out of China have documented how the Uyghurs have been subject to forced abortionssystematic rapetorture, and internment in concentration camps. But Palihapitiya says “nobody” cares about the Uyghurs, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Palihapitiya, who’s reportedly worth roughly $1.2 billion and is a co-owner of the [Golden State] Warriors basketball team, made the comments Saturday on his podcast, titled All In, which he co-hosts with tech industry veteran Jason Calacanis.

“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs,” Palihapitiya said. “You bring it up because you really care, and I think it’s nice that you care. The rest of us don’t care.”

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Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Virgin Galactic Alleging Securities Fraud

Michael Colglazier (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A class action lawsuit was filed in New York on Dec. 7 alleging securities fraud by Virgin Galactic, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in October 2019 after merging with Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH).

Named in the lawsuit are Virgin Galactic Holdings, CEO Michael Colglazier, former CEO George Whitesides, former current chief financial officer Doug Ahrens, and former chief financial officer Jon Compagna.

The lawsuit was filed amid years-long delays in the start of commercial human suborbital flights that have caused a sharp decline in the value of the stock. Virgin Galactic began trading on the New York Stock Exchange at an opening price of $12.34 on Oct. 28, 2019. The stock is now trading at $14.46 having previously soared to a high of $62.80.

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Virgin Galactic’s Next Challenge: The Flight of the Vested?

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

This was supposed to be the Summer of Virgin Galactic. The company would complete the three remaining suborbital flight tests of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, the second one with Richard Branson aboard. The company’s newest space tourism vehicle, SpaceShipIII, would begin its flight tests.

Once VSS Unity tests were complete, engineers would spend four months making a series of repairs and upgrades to the spacecraft and its WhiteKnightTwo mothership, VMS Eve. And then in early 2022, the company would use both spaceships to fly tourists on suborbital joy rides that were originally projected to begin 15 years earlier in 2007.

Sounds easy enough, right? It wasn’t. The Summer of Virgin Galactic went about as well as the Summer of George on Seinfeld. If best laid plans of mice, men and Costanzas often go awry, Virgin Galactic’s schedules are guaranteed to move significantly to the right. Years to the right.

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Bank of America Rips Virgin Galactic for Failure to Disclose Out of Airspace Mishap on Richard Branson Flight

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Editor’s Note, Sept. 26: 2021: Story updated to reflect that Richard Branson began selling $300 million worth of Virgin Galactic shares on Aug. 10 the day before the FAA notified the company of a mishap during the July flight that carried the billionaire to space. The sale continued through Aug. 12.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Analysts at Bank of America who cover Virgin Galactic’s publicly-traded stock are not amused by the company’s failure to disclose that a SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight carrying founder Richard Branson flew outside of its assigned airspace on July 11, resulting in an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the grounding of the company’s only operational space plane.

“Point blank, in our view, it is unacceptable to have an event during a flight that, per FAA regulations, is considered a mishap and then claim that the mission was a full success,” analyst Ronald Epstein wrote in a note to investors. “The old adage, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, generally is a poor strategy in aviation.”

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Book: Virgin Galactic’s President Moses Believed Company’s Flight Projections were a “Pipe Dream”

Richard Branson’s space tourism company used similar numbers to go public on the New York Stock Exchange. Were investors duped?
Michael Moses

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nicholas Schmidle’s book about Virgin Galactic and SpaceShipTwo is coming out on Tuesday. In an essay he wrote for The New York Times, he recounted how Virgin Galactic President Michael Moses didn’t believe the company’s own flight projections when they were presented to him by its then-chief financial officer.

At one point, I was leaked a cache of internal documents. Some revealed the depth of Virgin Galactic’s oftentimes shaky grip on reality.

In 2013, Mike Moses, at the time Virgin Galactic’s senior vice president for operations, was sent an email containing a chart from Virgin Galactic’s chief financial officer at the time, Ken Sunshine. The chart showed a radical uptick in flight operations, projecting 75 flights in 2015, 194 in 2016, 229 in 2017 and 264 in 2018. “No chance in hell,” replied Mr. Moses, who is Beth’s husband. “These numbers are a pipe dream.” (Mr. Moses, through a representative, declined to comment on those emails.)

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SPACovirus Sweeps Space Sector

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)
Wall Street’s latest easy money craze has attracted a growing number of space companies. But, just because they can go public, should they?

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Seven space companies have gotten caught up in the SPACovirus sweeping through Wall Street. The impact on the space industry is going to be interesting to watch.

A SPAC is a special purpose acquisition company. It’s a publicly traded investment firm that, with outside investors, acquires or merges with another company, and then takes the acquisition public under its own name.

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Branson Wants to Take Virgin Orbit Public Through SPAC

Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 takes off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

First Virgin Galactic. Now Virgin Orbit.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Richard Branson has hired Credit Suisse Group AG and LionTree LLC to take Virgin Orbit public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) at a valuation of up to $3 billion.

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Wall Street Thinks Most SPACs are a Joke

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange after merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). (Credit Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Over at Fast Company, William D. Cohan says professional investors and financial analysts have a low opinion of the special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), which are being used by Virgin Galactic and six other space companies to go public. (SPACs are an inside joke on Wall Street, and the joke is on you)

SPACs are investment vehicles that are already publicly traded on the stock exchange. Their goal is to acquire or merge with other companies, which then go public under their own names.

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Virgin Galactic Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya Sells Entire Personal Stake Worth $213 Million

Chamath Palihapitiya (Credit: SCH)
  • Move follows Palihapitiya’s sale of shares worth nearly $98 million in December
  • Virgin Galactic shares continued weeks-long decline after news broke
  • Palihapitiya indirectly owns a large stake through Social Capital Hedosophia

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya has sold 6.2 million personal shares in the suborbital space tourism company worth about $213 million. The sale zeros out his personal stake in Virgin Galactic.

The move follows Palihapitiya’s sale of 3.8 million shares worth $97.8 million in December. The nearly $311 million gain is more than triple the $100 million he personally invested in Virgin Galactic when it went public 16 months ago.

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Virgin Galactic Chairman Declares We’re Not a Bubble Stock as Shares Slide

Chamath Palihapitiya (Credit: SCH)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya was on a financial news network yesterday denying the stock was a bubble, a claim that hasn’t aged well in the short term.

With shares soaring to a high of $41.55 only a week ago, they are hovering at around $23 as I writing this story. The shares were offered at $12 when Virgin Galactic went public last Oct. 28 and rose sharply in recent weeks.

The shares slid after Virgin Galactic reported a larger than expected loss for the fourth quarter 2019 and hinted at delays in the start of commercial suborbital flights, which were to have started in June. Analysts have downgraded the stock based on the earnings report.

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2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.

There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:

  • Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
  • Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
  • the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
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