Richard Branson’s satellite launcher Virgin Orbit unveiled a rocket in New York City on Friday as it celebrated its IPO.
“There is a missile in Times Square, but it just so happens that there is … [another] one on a plane … we do things and I think at the end of the day that’s what matters, “Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart told CNBC, who rang the Nasdaq opening bell on Friday.
Virgin Orbit stock rose up to 26% in trading from its previous closing price of $ 6.49 per share.
The company, a spin-off from Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic, was privately owned by conglomerate Virgin Group with a minority stake in Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala – which together have invested approximately $ 1 billion in Virgin Orbit to date. It merged with SPAC (or a special purpose vehicle for acquisitions) NextGen Acquisition Corp. II to go public.
The company raised less than expected through the SPAC process. While Virgin Orbit previously expected the merger to raise around $ 380 million in SPAC revenue, the company raised just $ 68 million – likely the result of a large number of shareholders making redemptions.
Virgin Orbit raised additional funding through its private investment in a public equity round (PIPE). The company raised $ 160 million – instead of just $ 100 million – through the PIPE from investors such as Boeing, AE Industrial Partners, Virgin Group and Mubadala. Virgin Orbit’s total gross revenue was $ 228 million.
The company uses a modified Boeing 747 aircraft to launch its missiles, a method known as air launch. Rather than launching missiles from the ground, the company’s aircraft carries its LauncherOne missiles to an altitude of about 45,000 feet and drops them just before they ignite the engine and accelerate into space – a method the company touts as more flexible than a ground-based system.
Virgin Orbit joins a collection of rocket builders that went public through SPACs last year, including Astra and Rocket Lab.
“I respect anyone who ever launches a satellite into space. It is not easy. But … honestly, almost all of the companies out there that work on it are recreating things that were made in the 1960s, ”said Hart. “We are a launcher that can take off from anywhere in the world, from any airport – different levels of economy, different ranges for customers.”
Airborne launch in particular is not a new approach to getting satellites into orbit as the Pegasus system was developed in the 1990s. Hart called Pegasus “a great idea” made at the wrong time when small satellites lacked the capability, meaning the missile was “more of a curiosity than a business”. He also stressed that Pegasus had deployed excess ballistic ICBMs (ICBMs, ICBMs) which are “not cheap” and “never will be”.
“A liquid [fuel] Missile is much cheaper to manufacture, especially with current manufacturing techniques, “Hart said.
While Virgin Orbit brought in roughly $ 250 million less gross revenue than expected through the SPAC process, the company now focused on executing launches, according to Hart. Virgin Orbit plans to launch seven missiles this year, one of them as early as next Wednesday. Hart said the company then plans to build on that momentum in the coming years.
“We want to get past 18 launches a year and then we’ll see how the market develops,” said Hart.