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Virgin Galactic launches on the New York stock exchange

By Philip Smith

Richard Branson in race to be the first to take tourists to space

Virgin Galactic, the space tourism business created by Richard Branson, started trading on the New York Stock Exchange today, opening at $12.01.

A new company, Virgin Galactic Holdings, was created via a merger between Branson’s Virgin Galactic and former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya’s publicly-traded shell company, which invested $800m (£623.7m, €721m) for a 49 per cent stake.

Branson, with a 51 per cent stake, retains control of the company which had a market cap of $2.3bn following the announcement of the merger completion on October 25. Palihapitiya is chairman of the combined company.

Merging with an already-public company allowed Branson’s space venture to sidestep the traditional initial public offering process, including filing extensive paperwork,reports Reuters.

Virgin Galactic aims to take paying tourists into space. So far hundreds from some 60 countries have paid for the trip, some having waited 14 years since the concept was first mooted. The 90-minute flight, which allows passengers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness, will cost about $250,000 (£195,000). The goal is to launch the first flight next year.

The firm is in a space race with Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin to be the first to send fee-paying passengers into space.

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