Max Q - Virgin Galactic makes Branson's dreams come true

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Monday, July 12, 2021 By Darrell Etherington

Branson floats! Also another big space SPAC breaks cover. But we all know everyone was watching the billionaire make his space voyage — including other billionaire space magnates.

Virgin Galactic's big day

Easily the biggest space story this week was Richard Branson’s trip on Virgin Galactic’s first passenger flight to space. The ‘spaceline’ is now one in more than just name, having flown billionaire and original backer Branson along with Beth Moses, Sirisha Bandla, and Colin Bennett. This is still one of the company’s final remaining test flights, but it’s the first to carry a full complement of both crew and passengers, which reflects what the operational flights will look like after a couple more trial runs, when Virgin Galactic finally officially opens for business.

Branson made grand speeches about opening up “equal access to space,” but of course access is still highly gated, primarily by an extremely high price tag. The plan it to continue to drive down that price, as Virgin expands its fleet, but it has a lot of investors expecting it to finally begin generating a lot of revenue from at least the initial batch of would-be private spacefarers.

Another big space spender was in attendance: Elon Musk, who watched from the ground at Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico while the launch occurred. Musk reportedly bought a ticket to space on a future Virgin Galactic flight, too, according to one report. Sure, he’s got his own ride, but the spaceplane is a different kind of thing and billionaires gotta support each other’s projects.

There is actually a way to get on a Virgin Galactic spaceplane in the near future without spending a huge amount of money: The company partnered with Omaze to give away two tickets on an upcoming flight. You can enter for free, or increase your odds by adding a donation.

Virgin Galactic's big day image

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

Planet plans its exit

One of the most established space startups has announced how it plans to make its exit: Earth observation satellite operator and analytics provider Planet will make its public market debut on the NYSE via a SPAC merger. SPAC deals have proven a path that a number of space companies, both young and established, have chosen as a means to an exit — noteworthy in an industry where investors and observers have pretty consistently noted the lack of big startups with a sizeable exit to their credit.

Planet’s SPAC deal is worth an estimated $2.8 billion, and should generate around $545 million in cash for Planet to spend on building out its operations, as well as supporting both new and existing product lines. The company has pretty well established operations and revenue now, with a solid customer base, so this will be a good test of whether the SPAC model can work well for all involved in the deal, including public market investors.

Planet plans its exit image

Image Credits: Planet under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Join us at TC Sessions: Space in December

Last year we held our first dedicated space event, and it went so well that we decided to host it again in 2021. This year, it’s happening December 14 and 15, and it’s once again going to be an entirely virtual conference, so people from all over the world will be able to join — and you can, too.

Join us at TC Sessions: Space in December image

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