Virgin Galactic, Virgin's space tourism project, may be close to listing its shares publicly once its regular flights begin, billionaire founder Richard Branson told CNBC on Wednesday.
“It’s not long now” until Virgin Galactic lists, Branson said during an unveiling of the company's spacewear collection with Under Armour.
Branson also confirmed that he will retain his majority stake once the company lists and has no intention of selling his shares.
“I will retain control of the company,” Branson said. “I will keep roughly 51%.”
Virgin Galactic is preparing to expand its business globally as the first human spaceflight company to go public via a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia, or SCH, a special-purpose acquisition company created by venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya. The company is planning to list on the New York Stock Exchange.
Palihapitiya said that he views Virgin Galactic as “a business that has software-like margins,” while also telling CNBC in July that there is a “really compelling risk-reward” behind space tourism.
Once the deal is established, Virgin Galactic will have a valuation of $1.5 billion, with SCH keeping a 49% stake.
Branson also hinted on Wednesday that the company may go public in the early part of this quarter, despite previously saying that the company plans to list in the fourth quarter of this year.
While the company is currently in agreement to use Spaceport America in New Mexico for its first commercial flights, Branson said he hopes to expand internationally, identifying Sweden specifically, saying “we’ve talked about going up into the Northern Lights. It would be ridiculous.”
“Abu Dhabi would like us to do a spaceport there, and we’re in discussions with them,” Branson said. He also mentioned Italy, Great Britain, and Australia as potential sites for spaceports.
“We have an announcement to make, so I’m not allowed to talk about it,” Branson said. “Sometime next year I will be taking somebody up, but I will have to let you know.”
CEO George Whitesides also confirmed that Virgin Galactic is considering beginning operations “in a few other Asian countries.”
Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft can carry up to 6 passengers and 2 pilots to the edge of space.
The trip includes shooting up into the Earth's atmopshere and to the edge of space in a jet-powered aircraft. The spacecraft and its passengers then float for a few minutes before slowly returning to Earth. A ticket for a Virgin Galactic flight costs around $250,000 per person, with 603 customers awaiting a journey.