Space Tourism Money Pit: Virgin Galactic Stock Plunges Again as Company Plans to Issue Up to $500 Million in Debt

Credit: Google Finance

Parabolic Arc Context Backgrounder

  • $425 million in senior notes due in 2027; initial purchasers have option to buy up to $75 million in notes
  • First issuing of debt; company previously raised money by issuing hundreds of millions in additional stock after going public on Oct. 28, 2019
  • Announcement came as sister company, Virgin Orbit, prepared for a satellite launch later today
  • Stock price well below its NYSE debut price of $12.79 and peak of $62.80
  • Company has lost hundreds of millions of dollars since going public as schedule delays lengthened
  • Space tourism revenue flights not expected until third quarter 2022
  • Plan before going public was to begin tourism flights in June 2020
  • Founder Richard Branson has extracted about $1.4 billion from initial deal to go public and subsequent sales of stock
  • Branson has reduced ownership stake from more than 50 percent in October 2019 to 11.9 percent today

Virgin Galactic’s press release announcing the plan to issue debt follows.

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Merger Leaves Virgin Orbit with Less Than Half of Funding Originally Planned

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In a clear sign of investor skepticism, Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit will receive only about $228 million of the $483 million in growth capital it expected after merging with the NextGen Acquisition II special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

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FAA Examination of Blue Origin Safety Issues Likely to be Very Narrow

New Shepard launch (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it will examine safety issues about Blue Origin’s crewed suborbital New Shepard vehicle raised by a group of current and former employees in an open letter published on Thursday.

The announcement comes 11 days before four paying customers, one reported to be Star Trek star William Shatner, are scheduled to board New Shepard for a trip to space. While a federal safety review might sound reassuring to these ticket holders, what does it actually mean in practice?

Probably not much.

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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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Report: Virgin Orbit Preparing to Go SPAC

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Following in the footsteps of its sister company, Virgin Orbit is preparing to go public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), Sky News reports.

Sky News can reveal that Virgin Orbit is close to finalising a deal to combine with NextGen Acquisition II, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) set up by George Mattson, a former Goldman Sachs banker.

Sources said this weekend that NextGen II was in exclusive talks with Sir Richard’s Low Earth Orbit satellite business, which is 80%-owned by the tycoon’s Virgin Group empire.

Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi sovereign fund, owns the remaining 20% of Virgin Orbit’s shares.

A definitive deal valuing Virgin Orbit at approximately $3bn (£2.1bn) could be announced in the coming weeks, according to insiders…

The choice of NextGen is a logical one, since Mr Mattson is a director of Virgin Galactic, and is an experienced aviation industry insider, having also been a director of Delta Air Lines for nearly nine years.

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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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Why Virgin Galactic Went SPAC

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During the SmallSat Symposium last week, Richard Branson was asked why Virgin Galactic had gone public using a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

“I’m impatient. The SPAC gets through all of the rigmarole of public companies. Yes, I thought, that’s great, let’s do it,” he replied.

Branson was half right. A SPAC makes it a lot easier for a company to go public. But, impatience was probably not the main reason Virgin Galactic went SPAC.

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Space Tourism Rewind: Branson & Richardson Announced Spaceport America Deal 15 Years Ago

Early Spaceport America artwork showed facilities built underground. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

New Mexico to spend $225 million
Commercial spaceflight set to begin in 2010
Virgin Galactic to fly 50,000 peassengers in 10 years

SANTE FE, NM, Dec. 14, 2005 (New Mexico Economic Development Department PR) — Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Companies, today announced that Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism business, will locate its world headquarters and Mission Control in New Mexico. The agreement between the State of New Mexico and Virgin Galactic calls for New Mexico to build a $225 million spaceport in the southern part of the state, on 27- square miles of state land.

“This is a historic day for our great state, and particularly Southern New Mexico,” said Governor Bill Richardson. “With Virgin at the controls, enthusiasts from around the world will fly to space, routinely and safely, just a few years from now. And they will be flying from the world’s first purpose-built spaceport here in New Mexico. I am excited that New Mexico will be on the ground floor of this new industry, and I know this will mean new companies, more high-wage jobs and opportunities that will move our state’s economy forward.”

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Virgin Orbit has Raised $1 Billion, Needs $200 Million More

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit satellite launch company needs another $200 million in investment after having already raised $1 billion.

So said the British billionaire during The Wall Street Journal’s recent Tech Live conference. The amount raised is considerably larger than a previous estimate of $700 million.

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Virgin Galactic Pivots High-speed Aircraft Program in a Crowded Field

Credit: Douglas Messier

Virgin Galactic’s record of delays and broken promises raises doubts about its ambitious supersonic aircraft project as company founder Richard Branson fights to save his struggling empire in the midst of a global pandemic.

Updated on 10/27/20 at 12:39 p.m. PDT to include spending comparison of Virgin Orbit to Rocket Lab.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s dream of a suborbital Virgin Galactic vehicle zipping passengers between distant cities at hypersonic speeds above Mach 5 (6,174 km/h, 3,836 mph) is dead. At least for now.

In August, the space tourism company he founded pivoted to a slower supersonic Mach 3 (3,704 km/h, 2,302 mph) business jet. Virgin Galactic unveiled a mission concept for an aircraft that would carry 9-19 passengers at a cruising altitude of 60,000 ft (18,288 m).

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Supersonic & Hypersonic Civilian Transport Projects in Development

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boom Supersonic’s recent rollout of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft marked a milestone in an accelerating race to revive an era of civilian supersonic travel that ended when the Concorde jetliner was retired in 2003.

XB-1, aka Baby Boom, is set to begin flight tests next year from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Mach 2.2 (2,717 km/h, 1,688 mph) vehicle is the precursor to Boom’s 55-seat Overture airliner, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2029.

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Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is Seeking Investors

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is look for investors. The company posted the following notice on its website:

Virgin Orbit LLC, (together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, the “Company”), is exploring a possible transaction and has retained LionTree Advisors LLC (“LionTree”) and Perella Weinberg Partners LP (“PWP”) (together, the “Financial Advisors”).

The website includes a link to a password protected presentation that potential investors can review.

Virgin Orbit is developing LauncherOne, a small-satellite booster that is air launched from a modified Boeing 747 airliner.

Virgin Orbit’s first launch attempt failed in late May when the rocket’s engine stopped about five seconds after it began firing. The company is planning another launch attempt later this year.

The travel-heavy Virgin Group has been struggling to fund its companies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.