On July 9, 2019, entrepreneur extraordinaire Sir Richard Branson announced plans to take his space tourism venture Virgin Galactic public by the end of 2019, becoming the world’s first publically traded commercial human spaceflight company. Since its founding in 2004, Branson personally funded Virgin mostly out of pocket, investing nearly $1 billion of his fortune into the enterprise (his current net worth measures near 4 billion, ranking him the 478th wealthiest man on the planet as of July 2019). In a statement, Branson remarked, “By embarking on this new chapter, at the advanced point in Virgin Galactic’s development, we can open space to more investors and in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts.”

Virgin Galactic will merge with Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH), a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC), in the second half of 2019. SCH is expected to control 49% of the combined company, the merger valuing at $1.5 billion. Chamanth Palihapitaya, founder and chief executive of SCH, has invested $100 million of his own capital into the deal, demonstrating his commitment to this ambitious endeavor. “I cannot wait to take my first trip to space and become an astronaunt,” he quipped during the interview with CNBC. The merger will allow Billionaire Branson to continue funding Virgin Galactic until his ships are flight ready to begin commercial launches. Unlike Virign’s top competitors, over 600 people have already paid deposits for trips into space, generating some $80 million with $120 million in potential revenue once the ball starts rolling, and this is only the beginning. Palihapitaya estimates that Virgin will see profits generated in fall of 2021.

Similar to the era of commercial air travel in the early 1900s, commercial space travel is defined by high risk and bold initiative, humanity’s inevitable destination if we truly wish to advance our species. The dawn of the Space Age grows ever so brighter. Keep your eyes peeling on the horizon and you might just spot a star cruiser someday.

The stage is set. Branson’s Virgin Galactic rivals Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin  and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, each company vying for supremacy in this burgeoning industry, each aim to become the first to launch tourists into space. Palihapitaya claims they are “lightyears” ahead of the competition, and this might just be the case, but who’s determined to be the good, the bad, and the ugly in this space western technological arms race remains to be seen.

Watch the full interview with Richard Branson and Chamanth Palihapitaya here.

SpaceShipTwo carried under its twin fuselage mother ship, White Knight Two. Credit: Virgin Galactic