Virgin Galactic shares fall after $500m stock sale announcement

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The Guardian 12 July, 2021 - 02:53pm 24 views

Who is flying with Branson?

The pilots are David Mackay and Michael Masucci. In addition to Mr. Branson, three Virgin Galactic employees joined the flight to evaluate how the experience will be for future paying customers. The New York TimesHighlights From Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Flight

How long was Richard Bransons space flight?

Branson stated that the entire flight will take about 90 minutes, including the ascent up to launch position, release, flight to space and glide back to Earth for a runway landing at Spaceport America. Space.comVirgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Unity 22 launch with Richard Branson. See video and photos of the flight.

Where does Virgin Galactic launch from?

Virgin Galactic's flights launch from Spaceport America, along a desolate stretch of desert in New Mexico. The company's SpaceShipTwo Unity craft is designed to take off on a conventional runway while attached to the underbelly of a carrier ship known as WhiteKnightTwo. NBC NewsVirgin Galactic's rocket reaches edge of space with Richard Branson on board

Did Richard Branson come back from space?

Branson in space: Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson successfully returned to earth aboard Virgin's rocket-powered plane, making him the first billionaire to travel to space aboard a spacecraft he helped fund. CNNRichard Branson goes to space: Live updates

Shares of Virgin Galactic slipped on Monday after the company filed to sell up to $500 million in common stock. This follows the commercial spaceflight company's successful test flight with founder Sir Richard Branson.

Shares of Virgin Galactic — which trades under ticker SPCE — fell 8% after the $500 million in stock sale announcement that came after the company's successfully completed fully crewed test flight into suborbital space on Sunday, a major milestone in the commercial space race and step towards the company's goal for commercial service in early 2022.

The shares were last at about $44.80, after rising as much as 7% in premarket trading. The stock has doubled so far this year in anticipation of this progress toward commercial service.

"We view Branson's achievement as a massive marketing coup for Virgin Galactic that will be impossible for the public to ignore," Canaccord Genuity equity analyst Ken Herbert told clients. The firm has a buy rating but $35 price target on the stock, which is below its current level.

The company's spacecraft VSS Unity launched above the skies of New Mexico on Sunday, with two pilots guiding the vehicle carrying the billionaire founder and three Virgin Galactic employees. VSS Unity fired its rocket engine and accelerated to faster than three times the speed of sound in a climb to the edge of space.

"We see this as important on the path toward starting passenger flights, which we assume will happen in early 2022," AB Bernstein analyst Douglas Harned told clients. The firm has a market perform rating on Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity is designed to hold up to six passengers along with the two pilots. The company has about 600 reservations for tickets on future flights, sold at prices between $200,000 and $250,000 each. While passenger ticket sales have yet to be announced, Bernstein expects them to come at a higher price point between $400,000 and $500,000.

Virgin Galactic also announced it is partnering with sweepstakes company Omaze to offer a chance at two seats on "one of the first commercial Virgin Galactic spaceflights" early next year.

"The flight is symbolically important for building consumer confidence in and demand for space tourism," said Harned. "A successful test flight by Blue Origin including founder Jeff Bezos, scheduled for July 20, should generate further interest in the industry, which would benefit both companies."

Launching ahead of Bezos or Elon Musk, Sunday's flight means Branson is the first of the billionaire space company founders to ride his own spacecraft.

AB Bernstein said the flight's success and subsequent ticket sales could well be an upward short-term catalyst for the stock but did not change their long-term forecast. The firm did note that it wouldn't be short the stock, as it has seen huge volatility driven by retail investors reacting to events.

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'It was just magical': Virgin Galactic space plane carrying Richard Branson reaches edge of space, returns safely

USA TODAY 12 July, 2021 - 02:01pm

Branson and his crew experienced about four minutes of weightlessness before their space plane smoothly glided to a runway landing. The entire trip, delayed 90 minutes because of bad weather the previous night, lasted about an hour. An ecstatic Branson hugged family and friends who greeted him after landing.

"It was just magical," Branson said. "It's 17 years of painstaking work, the occasional horrible down – and large ups with it. And today was definitely the biggest up."

Branson, who turns 71 this week, and a crew of two pilots and three mission specialists were carried to an altitude of more than eight miles by the aircraft VMS Eve, named after Branson's mother. Live video then showed the space plane VSS Unity release from between the mother ship's twin fuselages, using rocket power to fly to the boundary of space, more than 50 miles above the Earth.

Tributes – and criticism – rolled in on social media.

"Congrats to @richardbranson & the entire team @virgingalactic!" tweeted Gen. Jay Raymond, chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force. "Your years of hard work & dedication paid off today with a flawless flight to the edge of Space."

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was less impressed: "Here on Earth, in the richest country on the planet, half our people live paycheck to paycheck, people are struggling to feed themselves, struggling to see a doctor – but hey, the richest guys in the world are off in outer space! Yes. It's time to tax the billionaires."

Branson, a brash, charismatic London native who founded Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984 and Virgin Galactic 20 years later, had planned the flight for later this summer. He moved it up after competitor Blue Origin and its founder, Jeff Bezos, announced plans to ride their rocket into space from West Texas on July 20.

Blue Origin, which in recent days has launched a social media campaign disparaging Virgin Galactic, softened its tone in the hours before the flight, tweeting: "Wishing you a great flight tomorrow @virgingalactic!"

After the flight, Bezos tweeted: "@richardbranson and crew, congratulations on the flight. Can’t wait to join the club!"

In keeping with Branson's reputation as a showman, The Late Show's Stephen Colbert was hosting Virgin Galactic's livestream of the event. R&B singer-songwriter Khalid performed his new song "New Normal" on stage after Branson and his entourage returned to Earth.

Virgin Galactic has plans for two more test flights before commercial service is expected to begin in 2022. The company says more than 600 people already have signed up for flights at an estimated $250,000 per person.

Branson announced that charity fundraising platform Omaze is giving away two tickets for one of the VSS Unity’s first commercial flights. The winner and one guest are set to be among the first everyday citizens to travel aboard a spacecraft.

The sweepstakes are open through Aug. 31, and donations will support the nonprofit Space for Humanity, which aims to send citizen astronauts of diverse racial, economic and disciplinary backgrounds to space.

"We're here to make space more accessible to all," Branson said. "We want to turn the next generation of dreamers into the astronauts of today and tomorrow."

Blue Origin has not begun to sell tickets but has dismissed Virgin Galactic's flight plans as failing to actually reach space.

"Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space," Blue Origin tweeted Friday. "New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin."

Blue Origin launches capsules atop reusable booster rockets, while Virgin Galactic uses an aircraft to get its rocket ship aloft.

Blue Origin intends to send tourists past the so-called Karman line 62 miles above Earth, which is is recognized by international aviation and aerospace federations as the threshold of space.

NASA, the Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration and some astrophysicists consider the boundary between the atmosphere and space to begin 50 miles up. Thus passengers on Virgin Galactic trips, which can reach a maximum altitude of about 55 miles, earn astronaut wings.

Virgin Galactic's efforts have come at a price. An earlier version of VSS Unity, the VSS Enterprise, broke apart during a 2014 test flight. One pilot died and another was injured.

Virgin Galactic reached space for the first time in 2018. Successful flights were also recorded in 2019 and most recently in May. The company gained permission from the FAA last month to start launching customers.

Branson's presence on the flight raised global interest in the test flight and reflected his confidence in the safety of his enterprise. Branson also became the second oldest person to reach space. In 1998, astronaut John Glenn flew on the shuttle at age 77.

"I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child," Branson tweeted. "But going to space was more magical than I ever imagined."

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Global News 12 July, 2021 - 02:01pm

Editorial: We don’t begrudge billionaires chasing the zero gravity of space. But can they spell ‘murraya’?

Chicago Tribune 12 July, 2021 - 01:26pm

Richard Branson scraped the edge of space Sunday, arriving via a supersonic plane built by Virgin Galactic, a company he created. In so doing, the man who made his bones by signing The Sex Pistols to Virgin Records in 1977 upstaged another driven billionaire, Jeff Bezos, who plans his own inaugural joyride July 20 aboard the spaceship New Shepard, owned by the Amazon mogul’s own aerospace company, Blue Origin.

Unlike some, this editorial does not begrudge these billionaires their desire to boldly go, etc.

These are humans who built boundary-pushing, disruptive companies. They are free to spend their acquired billions as their restless personalities wish, and most likely there will be a job-creating market for their so-called space tourism companies, even at $250,000 per seat. Among all the marketing hype from emcee Stephen Colbert and super fan Elon Musk, Branson made some room on his inaugural flight for scholarly research into the effects of zero gravity and an expanded private-sector foray into a part of the universe mostly hitherto reserved for governments might eventually teach us a few useful things about our lives down here in the City of Chicago, Planet Earth.

Moreover, who does not crave the chance to float around like the great astronauts of our childhood dreams, Earth’s gravitational pull falling away with our quotidian worries?

The only blasting away from the mother ship most of us have gotten to do has been courtesy of Atari or Xbox, either sitting on our couch or, years ago, standing at a console, plugging in quarters and wondering when our dull lives might improve. You have to admire at least the chutzpah, but also the drive of these men. And the life force of limitless aspiration can be catching for the young. It’s good for kids to know they should be limited by nothing.

But let’s be clear about something. This isn’t travel in the usual sense, meaning a chance to interact with other cultures, unless there is someone up there we don’t yet know. No one will get to seek out what the voice of William Shatner called “new life and new civilizations.” When you boil it down, Branson and Bezos will be selling $250,000 thrill rides to the edge of space, not so different, really, from the experiences those of us of humbler means might crave at the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in gravity-bound Gurnee. We calibrate thrills based on how much money we have in our pockets.

On Sunday, the experience of weightlessness lasted for only four minutes. And the windows on Branson’s SpaceShipTwo looked not unlike those on regular passenger jets into which we earthbound stick our heads as our humble Boeing 737 makes its final approach into Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. On a beautiful summer evening at sunset, our great city shimmering and shining, that can be enough of a thrill for anyone.

And are these billionaires, beyond their ambition and drive, doing anything really impressive?

Clearly, they’re both tending to their carefully chiseled personal brands, and those of their companies. And they’re buying the talents of great engineers, scientists and logisticians. They also are reminding us that huge fortunes and great business success do not necessarily buy calm. In these two cases, at least, they have brought a desire to keep pushing for something thrilling enough to sustain excitement and achievement when most of the thrills on earth have dissipated. There are only so many times you can get a rush from buying a private island.

We think these individuals pushing the limits with their billions make life more interesting for the rest of us and we don’t doubt their eventual philanthropic intent (we’ll be watching). But if you ask what we find impressive in the field of human achievement, we’ve been more struck by Zaila Avant-garde, the 14-year-old from Harvey, Louisiana, who became the first Black American to win the 96-year-old Scripps National Spelling Bee last Thursday, beating out 208 other contestants from five countries, even working in a delightful reference to Bill Murray on her way to victory.

As pure intellectual meritocracies go, this spelling bee is pretty unimpeachable. There was no Mr. Spock to help as Zaila stood alone on the bridge of the starship of her own scholarship, preparation and brainy heft. No flight engineer helped her spell “retene” (it’s a chemical). She didn’t float or look out of a window: She stood right there on terra firma and crushed the challenge that was presented. With personality to spare.

Zaila also holds three Guinness World Records for her basketball prowess.

Wow. There should be no frontier she cannot reach. We wonder if Branson could spell “dysphotic.” You know, under real pressure to achieve.

Copyright © 2021, Chicago Tribune

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