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Suborbinomics: The Astronomical Cost of Getting From Point A to Point A
Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Resplendent in a blue Virgin Galactic flight suit, Richard Branson was in an exuberant mood as he sat at the New York Stock Exchange doing a TV interview on Oct. 28, 2019. His space tourism company had just gone public in a $774 million merger with billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social Capital Hedosophia special purpose acquisition company.

Virgin Galactic now had an estimated market value of more than $2.2 billion despite never having flown a single passenger or earned any serious revenue in 15 years. Virgin Galactic would have $450 million to complete its flight test program and begin commercial flights — if the company’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings were to be believed — in June 2020. Branson and the Mubadala Investment Company, an Abu Dhabi government sovereign wealth fund, would divide up $274 million to offset about $1 billion in investment made thus far.

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  • Parabolic Arc
  • October 19, 2022
Virgin Galactic Sees Departure of Chief Legal Officer & Director of Safety as Company Fights Lawsuits
Michelle Kley (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic has seen the departures of its director of safety and chief legal officer over the past month.

Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel Michelle Kley is leaving Virgin Galactic as of July 19 after two years and seven months with the company. She will become chief legal officer at Volta, a company that runs an electric vehicle charging network.

Her departure comes as Virgin Galactic battles lawsuits from unhappy shareholders who claim to have lost money since the company went public more than 2.5 years ago.

Kley joined Virgin Galactic as executive vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and secretary in December 2019. She previously served as senior vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and secretary at Maxar Technologies from July 2016 to March 2019.

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  • Parabolic Arc
  • July 13, 2022
Former Virgin Group Senior Partner Joins Seraphim Space’s Investment Team

LONDON (Seraphim Space PR) — Seraphim Space Manager LLP, the manager of Seraphim Space Investment Trust plc, the world’s first listed Space Tech Fund, is delighted to announce that Patrick McCall, former Senior Partner of Virgin Group, will join the company.

Patrick joins Seraphim as a Venture Partner following a long and distinguished career in the space, communication and transport sector, He worked for two decades in the senior team driving the expansion of the Virgin Group and as the Chair of Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic. His achievements include financing the development of Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, culminating in the flotations of both companies. He also played a key role in agreeing the launch agreement for Virgin Orbit from the Spaceport in Cornwall later this year.

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  • Parabolic Arc
  • May 3, 2022
Chamath Palihapitiya Comments on Chinese Human Rights Abuses Embarrasses Virgin Galactic

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Well, this isn’t good for Virgin Galactic or the Virgin brand it represents. Gizmodo reports:

Chamath Palihapitiya, the chairman of Virgin Galactic and CEO of Social Capital, doesn’t care about the plight of Uyghurs—a Muslim-majority ethnic group that’s faced persecution by the Chinese government. Numerous reports out of China have documented how the Uyghurs have been subject to forced abortionssystematic rapetorture, and internment in concentration camps. But Palihapitiya says “nobody” cares about the Uyghurs, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Palihapitiya, who’s reportedly worth roughly $1.2 billion and is a co-owner of the [Golden State] Warriors basketball team, made the comments Saturday on his podcast, titled All In, which he co-hosts with tech industry veteran Jason Calacanis.

“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs,” Palihapitiya said. “You bring it up because you really care, and I think it’s nice that you care. The rest of us don’t care.”

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  • Parabolic Arc
  • January 19, 2022
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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  • Parabolic Arc
  • January 13, 2022
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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  • Parabolic Arc
  • December 29, 2021
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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  • Parabolic Arc
  • October 1, 2021
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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  • Parabolic Arc
  • September 16, 2021
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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  • Parabolic Arc
  • June 12, 2021