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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Branson’s Virgin Galactic Moves HQ to Tustin

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Orange County’s ties to space travel, and its tourism industry, have both gotten a boost as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) has moved its headquarters to Tustin.

The upstart space tourism company recently disclosed in regulatory filings that it changed its headquarters designation from New Mexico to the Flight office campus at the Tustin Legacy development, near the intersection of Barranca Parkway at Red Hill Avenue.

A move had been expected. The company relocated its main executive offices to Tustin last year shortly after the hiring of Chief Executive Michael Colglazier, an OC local and the former president of Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort from 2013 to 2018.

Last year also saw the company set up new engineering and design division at Flight, with the approximately 61,000-square-foot Tustin spot serving “our primary hub for R&D; and the design of our new vehicles,” Colglazier told analysts following Virgin’s latest earnings call.

Hiring Push

“It’s an excellent location for innovation and collaboration, and we continue to ramp up engineering and support team talent to this location,” Colglazier said in the February call.

Virgin’s website last week listed several dozen open jobs in Tustin, including structural design engineer, flight simulator design engineer and chief engineer, Mothership.

“We have plans to hire a lot of engineers in the Tustin area,” Vice President and Corporate Controller Floyd Amuchie told the Business Journal last week (see story, page 28).

Along with R&D; and design work, the local executive offices also house the company’s marketing, finance and other administrative functions.

While the headquarters has come to Orange County, Virgin Galactic’s operational base will stay at Spaceport America, a 25-mile spot in Las Cruces where the company’s invested more than $200 million to handle future astronaut launches.

SPAC Returns

Virgin Galactic went public in 2019 and sported an approximately $2.8 billion market capitalization as of last week, placing it among the top 16 most valuable public companies based in Orange County.

It currently counts a valuation roughly that of Irvine retailer Boot Barn Holdings Inc. (NYSE: BOOT) and medical device maker Axonics Inc. (Nasdaq: AXNX), also of Irvine.

Virgin Galactic is the most valuable public company currently based in Tustin, and the most valuable publicly traded aerospace company now based in OC.

The latter sector has seen other local companies tap the public markets of late; Florida’s Terran Orbital (NYSE: LLAP), the parent company of Irvine’s microsatellite maker Tyvak Nano Satellite Systems Inc., went public last week via a reverse merger and now sports a roughly $1.2 billion valuation (see story, page 8).

Like Terran, Virgin Galactic went public via a reverse merger with a Special Purpose Acquisition Company, or SPAC. At one point Virgin’s valuation topped $15 billion.

Bezos Competition

Virgin Galactic bills itself as the “world’s first commercial spaceline,” and its website provides potential space riders with a detailed account of the various steps that will take human passengers into the great beyond.

It is primarily competing with the Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin aerospace firm to send wealthy tourists into space.

The Tustin company, backed by Virgin Group co-founder Branson, says it will be ready to begin commercial service with suborbital flights some time between October and December of this year.

“We remain on track and on schedule to launch commercial service in Q4 2022,” Colglazier said in February

A seat on an upcoming flight now costs $450,000.

The company said its goal is to have 1,000 reserved spots by the time commercial service begins.

“Given the robust response from our space fares and early hand raisers, we have approximately 250 seats remaining and demand through our direct sales channel is strong,” Colglazier said in February.

The company said it has collected more than $80 million in future astronaut deposits.

Luxe Liftoff

The 90-minute journeys include several minutes of weightlessness, and go about 80 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

The space flight launches from Spaceport America in New Mexico, and the eager flyers won’t exactly be roughing it as they get ready to blast off.

“Starting with several days of spaceflight preparedness activities, future astronauts will stay with their guests at forthcoming custom accommodations,” Virgin Galactic says on its website. “Guests will enjoy bespoke itineraries and world-class amenities during astronaut-specific training programs.”

The firm completed its first fully crewed spaceflight, Unity 22, last July, with multibillionaire Branson as a passenger. 

Kevin Costelloe
Kevin Costelloe
Tech reporter at Orange County Business Journal

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