As Virgin Galactic shares debut, here are the billionaires leading the new space race

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We have lift-off.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings on Monday became the first space-tourism business to go public as its stock began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company listed its shares via a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), or blank-check company, founded by ex- FB, +0.43%  executive Chamath Palihapitiya, which took a 49% stake in Virgin Galactic SPCE, -6.46%   for about $800 million. The deal valued the company at $2.3 billion.

Shares in the new entity, which are trading under the ticker SPCE, rose 8% in New York trading.

CEO George Whitesides said: “For the first time, anyone will have the opportunity to invest in a human spaceflight company that is transforming the market.”

The commercial space sector is projected to be worth $2.7 trillion by 2045, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

These are the billionaires fueling the current space race:

Virgin Galactic – Richard Branson

Virgin Galactic, which is headed by former Nasa chief of staff George Whitesides, says it will be ready to start commercial operations in 2020.

The company has collected $80 million in deposits representing $120 million in “potential revenue” from customers including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop star Justin Bieber, who have each paid $250,000 for a 90-minute suborbital flight.

Virgin Galactic has also attracted a $20 million investment from U.S. aerospace group The Boeing Co.’s BA, +0.88%  startup division HorizonX Ventures. The company is also collaborating with sportswear maker Under Armour Inc. UA, -0.95%  to develop spacewear for passengers.

Virgin Galactic companies reported a net loss of $138.1 million on $2.8 million in revenue in 2018, according to securities filings. In the first six months of 2019, it recorded losses of $86.7 million on $2.4 million in revenue.

Branson, the investor and founder of Virgin Group, founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, but the company’s plans have been continuously delayed and it suffered a major setback in 2014 after a fatal accident that killed the pilot.

SpaceX – Elon Musk

Elon Musk, chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc. TSLA, -2.56%, set up SpaceX in 2002 to help humanity colonize Mars.

Don’t miss: NASA chief says SpaceX and other contractors need more realistic timelines

In September, Musk unveiled the Starship spacecraft designed to carry 100 passengers and cargo to the moon, Mars “or anywhere else in the solar system” and land back on Earth perpendicularly instead of horizontally.

Musk said orbital test flights would start in less than two months, with plans to land on the moon before 2022. The company has not yet flown a single full-scale prototype and its engineers haven’t said what type of life-support systems they will employ.

See: SpaceX Starhopper rocket makes successful ‘test hop’

The company has raised more than $1.3 billion this year to build both Starship and Starlink, a 30,000 satellite network to provide high-speed internet coverage.

Last year, SpaceX named Japanese tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, the CEO of fashion retailer Zozo, as its first private passenger to travel around the moon, a trip that is penciled in for 2023. Maezawa will be accompanied by eight artists.

Read also: Why Tesla’s future might not be in Elon Musk’s hands

Blue Origin – Jeff Bezon

Blue Origin, founded by Inc. AMZN, -0.55% founder, billionaire Jeff Bezos, in 2000, is hoping to launch its first manned space flight on its New Shepard reusable rocket by the end of 2019.

Read now: Space is the next frontier in investing

Last week, Bezos said Blue Origin had signed agreements with U.S. aerospace groups Lockheed Martin Corp. LMT, +0.37%, Northrop Grumman Corp. NOC, +0.66%  and Draper to build a lunar landing system to take astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2024.

See: Jeff Bezos announces Blue Origin mission to land on moon

Blue Origin will be the prime contractor for the lander project, with its Blue Moon lander serving as the heart of the system. In May, Bezos revealed a model of the Blue Moon lander and said his space venture was developing a hydrogen-fueled BE-7 engine to provide propulsion.

Tesla shares have fallen 1.2% in 2019, while Amazon has gained 18%. The S&P 500 SPX, +0.18%  has gained 21% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.07%  has climbed 16%.

Don’t miss: Test flight of SpaceX’s first capsule capable of carrying astronauts expected in March

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