Virgin Orbit shares soar after the company showed a rocket in Times Square

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket on display in Times Square, New York.

CNBC | Michael Schitz

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit satellite launch company brought the rocket to showcase itself in New York on Friday, celebrating the market launch.

“There’s a rocket in Times Square, but by accident [another] alone on the plane right now … we’re doing things, and I think that’s what counts in the end, ”Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart told CNBC. On Friday, he rang the Nasdaq opening bell.

Virgin Orbit shares jumped 26% in trading from the previous close at $ 6.49 per share.

Branson’s space tourism subsidiary Virgin Galactic was privately owned by the minority conglomerate Virgin Group, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, which has jointly invested nearly $ 1 billion in Virgin Orbit to date. It merged with SPAC (or Special Purpose Acquisition Company) NextGen Acquisition Corp. II to go public.

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart (center, black jacket) stands with company executives in Times Square, New York.

CNBC | Michael Schitz

The company attracted less than expected thanks to the SPAC process. While Virgin Orbit previously expected the merger to generate about $ 380 million in revenue for SPAC, the company raised just $ 68 million, which is expected to result from a high share of shareholders making redemptions.

Virgin Orbit raised additional funds through a private equity investment (PIPE) round. The company raised $ 160 million through PIPE instead of $ 100 million from investors including Boeing, AE Industrial Partners, Virgin Group and Mubadala. As a result, Virgin Orbit’s total gross revenue was $ 228 million.

The first demo launch of the company in May 2020.

Greg Robinson | Virgin orbit

The company uses a modified Boeing 747 aircraft to launch its missiles in a method known as air launch. Rather than launching rockets from the ground, the company’s aircraft takes its LauncherOne rockets to an altitude of about 45,000 feet and drops them just before launching the engine and accelerating into space – a technique the company touts as more flexible than a ground-based system.

Virgin Orbit joins a group of rocket manufacturers that went public through SPAC last year, including Astra and Rocket Lab.

“I respect anyone who has ever launched a satellite into space. This is not easy to do. But … to be honest, almost all of the companies working on it are re-creating what was done in the 1960s, ”Hart said. “We are a launcher that can be launched from anywhere in the world, from any airport – different economy, different customer reach.”

Notably, launching satellites from the air is not a new approach to getting satellites into orbit since the Pegasus system was developed in the 1990s. Hart called the Pegasus “a great idea” that came at the wrong time, when the smaller satellites lacked capacity, which meant the rocket was “more of a curiosity than a business.” He also stressed that Pegasus has disposed of surplus intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that are “expensive” and “never will.”

“Liquid [fuel] The rocket is much cheaper to manufacture, especially with modern manufacturing technologies, ”said Hart.

While the SPAC process generated approximately $ 250 million less in gross revenue than expected for Virgin Orbit, Hart said the company is now focusing on completing launches. Virgin Orbit plans to launch seven rockets this year, including one as early as next Wednesday. Hart said the company plans to build on that momentum in the coming years.

“We want to exceed 18 launches a year and then we’ll see how the market is doing,” Hart said.

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