Virgin Galactic Chairman Cashes Out Entire Personal Stake in Space Tourism Company

Virgin Galactic Chairman Cashes Out Entire Personal Stake in Space Tourism Company
File photo of Chamath Palihapitiya speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 at The Manhattan Centre on April 29, 2013 in New York City. (Photo: Brian Ach, Getty Images)

The chairman of space tourism company Virgin Galactic, Chamath Palihapitiya, has sold his entire personal stake in the company for $US211 ($271) million, according to a new regulatory filing with the SEC made public on Friday and first noticed by Bloomberg News. Palihapitiya still indirectly owns millions of shares through an investment company.

Palihapitiya, who’s reportedly worth roughly $US1 ($1.3) billion, also sold a lot of Virgin Galactic stock back in December 2020 and raised plenty of eyebrows at the time. Business Insider notes that Palihapitiya said back in December that he was simply trying to free up some cash — a curious claim for a man worth so much money.

But what do we know? We’re not billionaires.

Palihapitiya is a user of social media and semi-regular on CNBC but has yet to comment Friday morning on why he’s cashed out the rest of his personal stake in the space company. Whatever the reason, investors will likely get nervous all over again.

When Virgin Galactic’s stock crashed earlier this week a lot of online commentary insisted that investors simply have too much choice these days. SpaceX, they contend, is a much more attractive space tourism investment than Virgin Galactic, which went public in 2019 with a lot of promise.

But the big difference between SpaceX and Virgin Galactic is easy to spot: SpaceX has huge government contracts for putting things into space for the U.S. military and spy agencies, while Virgin Galactic’s only government contracts are extremely humble deals with civilian agencies like NASA.

Virgin Galactic has yet to send a single paying customer into space despite several years of promises that it was just around the corner. And while plenty of people are optimistic about space travel for tourists in the near future, there are plenty of reasons to be sceptical.

Virgin Galactic, which was officially founded by Richard Branson in 2004, went public back in December of 2019 and has been on a largely upward trajectory ever since. But the stock has suffered since February when the company announced it was delaying further launches for months.

Can Virgin Galactic actually get paying customers into space? That’s the question that will ultimately determine the viability of the company. Failing that, Virgin Galactic really needs to get into the lucrative espionage-machine market like SpaceX. It certainly pays better than promising space tourism is perpetually just two or three years away.