Investing in Space

Virgin Galactic to begin trading on the NYSE as the first space tourism stock

Key Points
  • Sir Richard Branson's space tourism company will list directly on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.
  • Shares will trade under the ticker symbol SPCE.
  • Virgin Galactic's spacecraft can carry six passengers and two pilots to the edge of space.
Virgin Galactic spacecraft Unity fires its engine and heads to space with its first test passenger on board in February 2019.
Virgin Galactic | gif by @thesheetztweetz | CNBC

Private space tourism is about to go public.

Shareholders approved Virgin Galactic's merger with one of Chamath Palihapitiya's ventures, setting up the space tourism company to list directly on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

"Virgin Galactic is making history again today as it becomes the world's first and only publicly traded commercial human spaceflight company. For the first time, anyone will have the opportunity to invest in a human spaceflight company that is transforming the market," CEO George Whitesides said in a statement.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides
CNBC | Michael Sheetz

The merger was announced in July, with Palihapitiya's Social Capital Hedosophia taking a 49% stake in Virgin Galactic. The deal gives the combined company a valuation of $1.5 billion, with Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson retaining a 51% controlling stake.

Palihapitiya's company already trades on the NYSE, under the ticker "IPOA." The new combined venture's shares will trade under the ticker symbol "SPCE" on the NYSE on Monday.

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Direct listing the best IPO route: Social Capital CEO Palihapitiya

Branson hinted to CNBC in an interview last week that Virgin Galactic's public debut was coming soon. "It's not long now," he said during the company's unveiling of its spacewear collection with Under Armour.

Virgin Galactic's spacecraft can carry six passengers and two pilots to the edge of space. The spaceship is dropped from a jet-powered aircraft and fires a rocket motor, reaching over three times the speed of sound as it climbs through Earth's atmosphere. The spacecraft and its passengers then float weightless for a few minutes, before gliding back down to land on Earth much like a traditional aircraft.

Virgin Galactic spacecraft Unity fires its engine and heads to space with its first test passenger on board in February 2019.
Virgin Galactic | gif by @thesheetztweetz | CNBC

A ticket for a Virgin Galactic flight goes for about $250,000 per person, and the company has a list of 603 customers waiting to fly.

Special purpose vehicles, known as SPACs, raise capital to buy an existing company. In Social Capital Hedosophia's case, Palihapitiya's SPAC is buying just under half of the company to help it enter the public market. Palihapitiya is the founder of Social Capital and had been an early executive at Facebook.

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Virgin Galactic and Under Armour unveil collaboratively designed 'spacewear' system