30 July 2009
Opinion - Vehicles (Good)
Virgin Galactic Valued at US$900 Million
Is the price right?
by Steven Fawkes
The announcement that Richard Branson has sold a 32% stake in Virgin Galactic to Sheikh Mansour for $280m, reported on Bloomberg and widely in the press, puts a valuation on a space tourism company into the public domain for the first time and gives the nascent industry a higher profile in the financial world.

The deal values Virgin Galactic at $900m. Depending on your point of view, this is either very high for a pre-revenue, technologically risky enterprise in a new market or the right price for the market leader in a new industry that will one day be worth billions.

The Sheikh’s investment company, Aabar Investments PJSC, will have regional rights to host Virgin Galactic flights. Aabar is planning to build a spaceport in Abu Dhabi.

Although Virgin Galactic’s creation in 1999 was reported in FT.com on the same day as the Second International Symposium on Space Travel in Bremmen, Germany, Virgin Galactic only really received interest outside the space tourism community when it signed a deal with Burt Rutan after the first successful space flight of Rutan’s SpaceShipOne in 2004.

Virgin have invested $100m into the venture and taken in $40m in deposits for the sub-orbital flights, therefore the $900m valuation provides a good return. (The deal is classic Virgin, creating a new venture, getting it going, getting publicity and then bringing in an outside investor.) The cash received will help with the forthcoming--and likely very expensive--flight test programme of White Knight 2 and SpaceShipTwo, which is expected to be rolled out in December. Time will tell if more investment will be needed.

The deal marks a giant leap for the space tourism, as it will focus attention on the industry from the financial world, as well as significantly improve the prospects of other companies in the industry raising funds. Given the nature of financial markets we could look back in a few years and see it as the turning point that led to a boom in investment in space tourism.
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30 July 2009
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