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Space SPAC Index: Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic Back in News as Stock Hits All-Time Low; Astra, Spire, Momentus and BigBear Crash Below $1

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
December 27, 2022
Filed under
Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic (NYS: SPCE) is back in the news this week in the form of a HBO documentary about company founder Richard Branson as the company’s stock hit an all-time low of $3.28 on Tuesday. And it turns out I am featured in Part 4 of the documentary.

Meanwhile, the stocks of not one but three of the 14 other space SPACs we follow have dipped below $1. Astra Space (NAS: ASTR), Spire Global (NYS: SPIR) and Momentus (NAS: MNTS) have all fallen through the ice. Astra has been there for months and faces possible delisting from the NASDAQ exchange.

Space SPAC Index
Dec. 27, 2022

CompanyFirst Trading DayOpening Share PriceHighClosoing Price
Arqit (NAS: ARQQ)
Sept. 7, 2021$9.25$41.52 (9/23/21) $3.90
Astra Space (NAS: ASTR)July 1, 2021$12.30$16.95 (7/2/21)$0.42
AST SpaceMobile (NAS: ASTS)April 7, 2021$11.63$15.48 (6/30/21)$3.65 (NYS: BBAI)Dec. 8, 2021$9.84$16.12 (4/6/22)$0.72
BlackSky (NYS: BKSY)Sept. 10, 2021$11.80$13.20 (9/16/21)$1.40
Momentus (NAS: MNTS)Aug. 13, 2021$10.8512.87 (9/7/21)$0.73
Planet Labs (NYS: PL)Dec. 8, 2021$11.25$11.65 (12/8/21)$4.19
Redwire (NYS: RDW)Sept. 3, 2021$10.70$16.98 (10/25/21)$1.81
Rocket Lab (NAS: RKLB)
Aug. 25, 2021$11.58$21.34 (9/9/21) $3.56
Satellogic (NAS: SATL)Jan. 26, 2022$9.19$10.92 (5/4/22) $3.10
Satixfy (NYS: SATX)Oct. 28, 2022$8.29$51.70
Spire (NYS: SPIR)Aug. 17, 2021$10.25 $19.50 (9/22/21)$0.96
Terran Orbital (NYS: LLAP)March 28, 2022$12.69$12.69 (3/28/22) $1.44
Virgin Galactic (NYS: SPCE)Oct. 28, 2019$11.79$62.80 (2/4/21)$3.29
Virgin Orbit (NAS: VORB)Dec. 30, 2021$8.525$11.28 (1/11/22)$1.64
Stock Price Source: Yahoo Finance

What Goes Up….

Part 4 of HBO’s Branson document has a clip of video I took of pieces of VSS Enterprise crashing to the desert floor after the SpaceShipTwo vehicle broke up on a flight test on Oct. 31, 2014. It’s combined with a clip of a BBC interview done later near the spot where the cockpit with co-pilot Mike Alsbury crashed onto a road.

SpaceShipTwo cockpit debris. (Credit: NTSB)

I’ve seen some of Part 4, but each time I’ve found it on my hotel TV I’ve tuned in too late to see this segment. It’s OK. I was there; I know what I filmed, and I know what I said.

I do have a few notes on the part of the documentary I did see. They glossed over Branson’s decision to have Virgin Galactic go public by merging with Chamath Palihapitiya’s special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

The documentary focuses on how Branson sold most of his stock in Virgin Galactic to bail out his struggling Virgin Group, which has hit hard by the slowdown in travel caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic that hit in early 2020.

It was interesting, but it missed a key controversy. As the documentary explains, the company’s lone SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, was nearly destroyed during a flight test in February 2019. Extensive modifications were subsequently made to the vehicle. The vehicle wouldn’t attempt another suborbital flight for 21 months. (Part of the gap was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Virgin Galactic went public eight months after the near disaster in October 2019 without disclosing that its only spaceship couldn’t fly. The company projected commercial service would begin in June 2020, a schedule it couldn’t meet even had the COVID-19 pandemic not occurred. Commercial flights are now scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2023 — an almost three year delay. Providing the company can complete the flight test program in the first quarter.

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

Reuters reports that Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic will face a class action lawsuit from shareholders that they concealed problems with the company’s space program when announcing plans to take the company public in July 2019, and that Branson later sold $301 million in stock two years later at inflated prices after false claims that his suborbital flight a month earlier had been flawless.

Shareholders can sue over July 2019 statements that Virgin had made “great progress” overcoming “hurdles” to commercial spaceflight, despite a near-disastrous test light five months earlier when its rocket plane Unity suffered critical damage.

Branson must also defend his July 2021 statement that his own just-completed flight on [VSS] Unity, where he soared 50 miles (80.47 km) above the earth, had been “flawless” though Unity had strayed from its assigned airspace.

Virgin Galactic had sought to dismiss the lawsuit by arguing that there had been no intent to defraud and that the defendants had throughout disclosed safety and design challenges in the high risk program.

You can read more about the lawsuit and stock sales by Branson and Palihapitiya: Class Action Fraud Lawsuit Against Richard Branson & Virgin Galactic to Proceed.

The other issue involves how Virgin Galactic put Branson on an earlier flight test in a successful effort to beat rival Jeff Bezos into space. The Amazon founder flew to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle nine days after Branson on July 20, 2021.

I broke the story in June 2021 that Virgin Galactic was putting Branson on the earlier flight test. I reported the company were aiming for July 4, but they ended up flying a week later.

Branson spent weeks saying it was not a race and beating Bezos was not the reason for moving up the flight. But, that’s exactly why the company did it. I stand by my story.

It turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. VSS Unity veered outside its assigned airspace during descent, which the company failed to inform the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about. The FAA grounded the vehicle while Virgin Galactic revised its operating procedures.

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity arrives at Spaceport America aboard WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

VSS Unity hasn’t flow since. Engineers have been busy overhauling VMS Eve, the 14-year old WhiteKnightTwo mothership that drops the spacecraft from an altitude of about 48,000 ft. The overhaul was originally scheduled to last four months, but has taken more than one year. VSS Unity has also undergone some modifications during this period.

The fact that Virgin Galactic hasn’t conducted a flight test in nearly 18 months is one of the reasons why the stock hit an all-time low today of $3.28. It is likely to go lower if the company can’t complete its flight test program and begin commercial flights in Q2 2023 as promised.

17 responses to “Space SPAC Index: Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic Back in News as Stock Hits All-Time Low; Astra, Spire, Momentus and BigBear Crash Below $1”

  1. Robert G. Oler says:

    the basic issue here is that the product doesnt work

  2. Smokey_the_Bear says:

    No, competition is a good thing, without it, things stagnate.
    I don’t know if space solar energy is the best path forward, I prefer having a energy mix. Best to not rely on one tech. But the best way for space solar energy to be built out, is a super cheap rocket, since it would take a lot of launches. That would be where Starship comes into play, which would be the best fit. But thankfully we also have the competition: New Glenn, Vulcan, Neutron, Terran-R.

    • Lee says:

      I smell Gary Church…

    • therealdmt says:

      No one knows that space-based solar power is the best path forward. It may be, but I doubt it for reasons including the following:

      – to power a significant portion of humanity’s energy needs, there would need to be a massive amount of material launched into space, at astronomical cost.
      – the solar arrays would have to be assembled in space, again at astronomical cost.
      – the solar arrays would have to be serviced and repaired in space, at…
      – the power would have to be converted to microwaves at an efficiency loss and then transmitted down to the surface via microwaves, at a further and quite significant efficiency loss
      – to collect the energy would require receiver farms on the ground and microwaves in the atmosphere, at [arguably] environmental cost
      – the received microwave power would have to be converted back to electricity, again at an efficiency loss
      – the massive solar arrays would dominate Earth’s night skies, at great cost to ground-based astronomy and future generations’ connection to humanity’s heritage
      – space-based solar arrays would present an easy target for any ill-willed actor capable of launching an orbital rocket, or possibly even just a sub-orbital one; a successful attack would have devastating effects, especially in the possible case of a Kessler event
      – by the time such an array could be deployed, there is hope we will have Earth-based fusion energy
      – solar arrays work on the ground now

      Considering the above and a number of other possible aspects, space-based solar power may, despite its promise, be limited to niche applications. Space-to-space transmission of power could be viable. Transmission to disaster areas on the ground, deployed mobile military units (against a foe that could not act against the power satellites) and areas having limited room for deploying ground-based solar arrays could be other niches. Depending on the deployed architecture, high latitude areas may be another use case.

      Of course, I could be overly pessimistic. If someone makes the significant investment and sees it through, space-based solar power could come into the mix, perhaps in a big way. So far, however, there have been decades of talk without even a small space-to-ground technology demonstration to show for it. That may change this decade, but considering the rate of progress to date, I don’t rate the likelihood of space-based solar power being a game changer to be any higher than I do for fusion power

      • se jones says:

        ”the massive solar arrays would dominate Earth’s night skies, at great cost to ground-based astronomy and future generations’ connection to humanity’s heritage”

        The facility would be up at GEO, thus appearing as a stationary, medium brightness star.

        ”space-based solar arrays would present an easy target for any ill-willed actor capable of launching an orbital rocket, or possibly even just a sub-orbital one; a successful attack would have devastating effects, especially in the possible case of a Kessler event”

        Ditto. Clearly advanced space powers could launch a swarm of impactors into a retrograde GEO orbit, but that takes us into big boy diplomacy, not impulsive acts by terrorist groups.

        The rest of your objections have been addressed for decades. Despite conversation losses, the 24/7 duty cycle is a huge advantage over terrestrial solar.
        Also, detractors such as yourself, are always fixated on photovoltaics while ignoring solar thermal systems with their inherent advantages.


        • therealdmt says:

          Okay, good luck with space solar power. For me, I’ve been hearing about it since the 70s and am no longer holding my breath. I’m not saying its impossible, but rather that it seems unlikely to be a major contributor to global energy production any time soon, and in the longer term, [ground based] fusion may well make it obsolete. There’s certainly more investment in fusion than in space based solar, and the situation has been that way for a long time.

          Meanwhile, solar works fine on the ground now. Sun doesn’t shine all the time? — store it in batteries. Batteries cost money? Batteries are a lot cheaper than building a power station in space and getting the power back to Earth.

          Nevertheless, I expect there to be some technology demonstration missions flown over the next decade or so, and maybe things will go beyond there to a pilot plant. After that.. who knows. Maybe you’ll be right

          • Nate says:

            It’s not just batteries, though those must be extensive (and thus expensive) for baseload power; you also have to vastly overbuild surface solar to meet year-round needs, as a ground facility will only meet its nameplate capacity under the most optimal conditions – which isn’t most of the year.

            I should also note that like ground solar, it’s likely any early solar power satellites will be fairly small (megawatt-scale at most); they’ll be lightweight, self-deploying (in the sense that they won’t need orbital assembly), and thus the barriers that you mention above won’t apply.

        • ThomasLMatula says:

          You don’t need interceptors, just one nuke from North Korea in the right orbit and all of your solar power satellites, along with all of your civilian satellites, will be useless.

  3. therealdmt says:

    I didn’t “go negative”, I just disagree with you.

    Sorry to hear about your surgery, and I hope your recovery goes well.

  4. Ball Peen Hammer ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:

    May the new year bring you a swift and full recovery.

  5. ThomasLMatula says:

    Prayers and best wishes for full recovery and healing!

    Also wishing you a very Happy New Year!

  6. duheagle says:

    I see where Momentus stock is now back up to $0.96 a share – doubtless on news of the Vigoride 5 launch on SpaceX’s Transporter 6 mission. Four more cents – and if it can stay there – and it’ll be out of threatened delisting territory.

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