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Richard Branson’s satellite launch firm, Virgin Orbit, to go public via SPAC merger

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, a satellite-launching spinoff of the billionaire founder’s space tourism firm, is going public through a merger with a shell company, the firm announced on Monday. The company will be valued at $3.2 billion and includes an investment from Boeing.

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Virgin Orbit plans to merge with the special purpose acquisition company (also known as a SPAC), NextGen Acquisition Corp. II around the end of 2021. It will be listed on NASDAQ under the ticker “VORB.” The deal will bring Virgin Orbit $483 million in new capital — $383 million stored in NextGen and $100 million from another round of funding. Investors in that round include Boeing, Virgin said, but it’s unclear how much they pitched in.

The $483 million will help Virgin Orbit ramp up “rocket manufacturing to meet customer demand, and to fund growth in its space solutions business and Virgin Orbit’s ongoing product development initiatives,” the company said in a press release. “Our success in launch has driven the business forward, and now we expect this investment will enable us to build on our R&D efforts and our incredible team,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a statement.

That Virgin Orbit would go public has been sort of an open secret for months, mainly after reports emerged earlier this year that the company was shopping for a SPAC with which to merge to go public.

Virgin Orbit, founded in 2017, launches a small rocket called LauncherOne from the underwing of a modified Boeing 747, named Cosmic Girl. It uses a so-called “air launch” method that the company touts as being more reliable and quicker for getting satellites to space than the more common methods of launching rockets vertically from the ground. The company reached orbit for the first time in January and deployed ten satellites, and later launched its first commercial mission in June.

The launch industry has been racing to NASDAQ ever since Virgin Galactic, Branson’s space tourism firm, went public in 2019. Small launch firm Astra went public through a SPAC in June, becoming the first company of its kind to do so. Rocket Lab, another small launch company, plans to do the same and begin trading on NASDAQ on Wednesday. The Verge

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