Shares in Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc (NYSE:SPCE) are expected to rocket higher when trading begins today after the company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, claimed the dubious honour of being the first billionaire in space.
The space tourism company’s VSS Unity spacecraft completed its first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, reaching an altitude of 53.5 miles that means it skirted just outside the outer edge of Earth’s atmosphere.
Crew members including Branson were on board to fulfil several test objectives before the company can begin taking paying customers into space, including evaluating aspects of the customer experience like the cabin, the views from the window and the effectiveness of the pre-flight training program on the ground.
Once in space, Branson also recorded a video message “to all you kids down there” on Earth and later added: “I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space. We are at the vanguard of a new space age.”
Chief executive Michael Colglazier later added in a statement that the flight was “a landmark achievement for the company and a historic moment for the new commercial space industry”.
He said the pilots and crew were “helping open the door for greater access to space – so it can be for the many and not just for the few”.
Branson’s space flight came a few days before a few other billionaires are due to fly into space, with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos scheduled for a trip on his Blue Origin company’s New Shepard rocket on July 20.
By rocketing above an altitude of 50 miles after being released from its mothership, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity exited Earth’s mesosphere and thereby entered where outer space is said to begin.
Blue Origin also said Bezos and his fellow passengers on the New Shepard will top the so-called Karman Line, 62 miles (100 kilometres) above Earth on what will be the company’s first crewed mission.
Ahead of the opening bell in New York, shares in Virgin Galactic Holdings were trading 7% higher at almost US$53 – still some way from the highs above $60 seen in January.