Virgin Galactic stock has begun trading publicly on the New York Stock Exchange, becoming the first big name in the fledgling space startup industry to make the leap into the public markets. The company’s billionaire founder, Sir Richard Branson, celebrated the public offering with a giant banner of his eye adorning the outside of the building and a firework show. The startup is now trading under the ticker “SPCE”.
Galactic CEO George Whitesides said that the company’s debut on the NYSE was the “start of a new era for the human spaceflight industry.” He said in his statement, “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.”
The move follows the closing of a merger last week between Virgin Galactic and Chamath Palihapitiya’s special purpose vehicle Social Capital Hedosophia. Special purpose vehicles, also known as SPACs, raise capital to buy an existing company. Social Capital Hedosophia took a 49 percent stake in Virgin Galactic. Branson has said he plans to retain his 51 percent controlling stake.
Branson started Virgin Galactic in 2004 and has worked for the past 15 years to create a sustainable space tourism business. The company is now in the final stages of testing its spacecraft and plans to begin flying commercial flights in 2020. The company reports that 603 customers have paid deposits for flights with a price tag of $250,000 per person. Galactic says there’s also a long list of people who have shown interest in buying tickets next time they go on sale.
Virgin Galactic’s premiere vehicle is a spaceplane called VSS Unity. So far, the company has sent the spaceplane to space only twice, with a total of five passengers on board. Virgin Galactic plans to carry as many as six passengers in its spacecraft at a time. Branson has said he plans to be on the first commercial flight.