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.
rvolkan / Getty Images

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.

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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