Sir Richard Branson is to sell a 12 per cent stake in Virgin Galactic to raise £405m ($500m) to prop up Virgin Group businesses struggling in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, including Virgin Atlantic.
The billionaire has put more than one fifth of his stake in the space tourism business up for sale. In a statement to the New York Stock Exchange, Virgin Group stated its intention to sell 25m shares via a series of transactions.
Branson came under fire last month for seeking taxpayer funds to bailout the airline in which he retains a 51 per cent stake. The appeal for an emergency funding package for Virgin Atlantic was rejected as the government implored businesses to exhaust all external funding options before seeking state assistance.
Proceeds from sale will help Virgin Group businesses affected by coronavirus
The Virgin Group has said it will use the proceeds from the sale of the Virgin Galactic stake to support its portfolio of leisure, holiday and travel businesses that have been “affected by the unprecedented impact of COVID-19.”
Last week, Virgin Atlantic announced the loss of more than 3,000 jobs – amounting to around a third of its workforce. The struggling carrier also ended its operations at Gatwick Airport. Virgin Australia, in which Branson owned a 10 per cent stake, collapsed into administration last month.
NASA and Virgin Galactic announce partnership
Virgin Galactic and NASA announced a partnership last week to enable the development of high speed point-to-point technologies
The Space Act Agreement will enable and foster collaboration between NASA, Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company in order to advance the United States’ efforts to produce technically feasible, high Mach vehicles for potential civil applications.
Virgin Galactic believes that it is able to leverage its robust platform of advanced technologies, significant vertically integrated design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities, and thousands of hours of flight testing to develop additional aerospace applications. The company is seeking to develop a vehicle for the next-generation of safe and efficient high speed air travel along with its industry partners with a focus on customer experience and environmental responsibility.
Partnership will drive technological development
Virgin Galactic believes there are significant opportunities from the partnership to apply higher speeds to drive technological development to allow industries to adapt to the changing economic and ecological environment. The collaboration will aim to inform the development of national strategies using economic and technical foundations with a focus on sustainability.
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic Holdings said: “This is the beginning of an important partnership for Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company that will support the future development of aviation technology. Virgin Galactic’s unique experience and innovative technology platform will, in partnership with the historic capabilities of NASA and other government agencies, enable the progression of new technical steps that will improve US competitiveness. We see this as an area with tremendous growth potential that we will continue to invest in, alongside our commercial spaceflight operations.”
Dr James Kenyon, Director of the NASA Aeronautics Advanced Air Vehicles Program said: “This Space Act Agreement will enable NASA to collaborate with Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company to allow our organisations to take advantage of new tools, techniques, and technologies developed over the last 50 years and to explore potential new solutions for the commercial aviation industry.”