Boeing Joins the Space Race, Invests $100M in Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit

Everett, WA, USA - August 29, 2017: A wide look at a Boeing facility with a visible Boeing sign.
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Aviation and aerospace giant Boeing upped the ante in the commercial space race by putting $100 million into Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit satellite launch startup.

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The money will go toward Virgin Orbit’s $3.2 billion SPAC listing, the Surface website reported. That startup is a spinoff of Branson’s space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic, which made its maiden launch this past month with Branson aboard.

Boeing’s entry adds to an increasingly crowded field of private-sector space adventurers. Others include Firefly Aerospace, Rocket Lab and Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Virgin Orbit says it has $4 billion in opportunities in the pipeline, Surface reported. That includes $300 million in backlogs across contract and launch service deals as well as a $35 million contract with the U.S. Space Force for three missions. Virgin Orbit is using a customized Boeing 747 jumbo jet to launch its reusable rockets at roughly 35,000 feet above sea level.

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The space exploration company said it would list on the Nasdaq by merging with NextGen Acquisition Corp., a special-purpose acquisition firm, The Wall Street Journal reported last week. NextGen is run by George Mattson, a former Goldman Sachs banker; and Greg Summe, a former senior executive at the Carlyle Group.

For its part, Boeing has made no secret of its interest in space travel. Its website boasts of “designing and building the future of safe, assured space exploration and commercial access,” and details the company’s “critical research on the International Space Station (ISS) that benefits the future space economy, deep-space exploration and life on Earth.”

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A Boeing spokeswoman told the WSJ that her company’s investment in Virgin Orbit was a strategic move that builds on its longstanding relationship with the Virgin Group.

“We believe in the importance of the satellite launch market and the capabilities Virgin Orbit brings to the industry,” she said.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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