Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit said on its webcast that the rocket performed normally during its ascent.
Virgin Orbit Holdings Inc. launched satellites for three customers as the newly public company prepares to expand operations outside the U.S. later this year. Virgin’s Boeing Co. 747 aircraft departed at 1:39 p.m. Thursday local time in Mojave, California. It then released the 70-foot Launcher One rocket carrying seven small satellites at 2:53 p.m. about 30,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, roughly 50 miles southwest of the Channel Islands.
Virgin Orbit said on its webcast that the rocket performed normally during its ascent. The shares rose 3.7% to $9.75 in late trading after the rocket’s launch.
The payload consists of satellites for the U.S. Defense Department and Colorado-based Spire Global Inc. as well as two nanosatellites for SatRevolution, a manufacturer based in Wroclaw, Poland. They will orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers (311 miles).
Virgin Orbit, which was founded by Richard Branson, is targeting five more missions this year, including two in the summer from Cornwall, U.K., which will be the company’s first international foray. Virgin plans to launch from Japan as soon as 2023 and eventually to make flights from Guam and Brazil.
The latest mission was named “Above the Clouds,” after a song on the Gang Starr album “Moment of Truth,” released in 1998 by Virgin Records.
Branson Hints at Setting Up a Virgin Group SPAC in Amsterdam
Richard Branson hinted but stopped short of confirming a report that his Virgin Group is considering setting up a blank-check company in the Netherlands, in what would be his first use of the structure in Europe.
The serial entrepreneur will probably seek to raise some 200 million euros ($227 million) by selling of shares in a special purpose acquisition company, with the aim of later merging the shell with an existing business, Sky News reported earlier.
“I love Amsterdam, I lived on a houseboat for a lot of my life, so maybe I need a new houseboat,” Branson said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “Maybe you’ll see me in Amsterdam sometime soon.”
The billionaire, who started out in 1970 with a mail-order record business, has been an avid user of SPACs to pursue opportunities in the U.S. He’s merged parts of the Virgin Group empire into listed companies, and created his own SPACs to take targets including DNA-testing firm 23andMe Inc. public.
Branson has previously said that raising funds through a SPAC is more efficient and less time-consuming than a traditional public offering of stock.
In December, his space-launch venture Virgin Orbit Holdings Inc. went public through a combination with NextGen Acquisition Corp. II, almost two years after Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. listed through a similar route.
Branson has used proceeds from selling part of Virgin Galactic to shore up his Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., after the downturn in travel brought on by Covid threatened the airline with insolvency.
The 71-year-old billionaire said he hasn’t personally considered an IPO of Virgin Atlantic, though the team has explored a number of ways to keep the airline going during the Covid crisis.
After a 400 million-pound ($543 million) infusion by Branson and co-owner Delta Air Lines Inc. in December, “they’ve got the money to do the job without IPOing,” Branson said. “Who’s to know what might happen in a year or two or three’s time.”
Virgin Orbit, one of a number of startups launching low-level satellites, plans to conduct its first U.K. mission this year, Chief Executive Officer Dan Hart said in the joint appearance with Branson. The shares were up 29% on Friday.
Space tourism company Virgin Galactic also gained after dropping 21% since the start of December.