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Small-satellite launch company Virgin Orbit is going public

Virgin Orbit's carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California with the LauncherOne rocket underwing for the company's "Tubular Bells: Part 1" mission on June 30, 2021.
Virgin Orbit's carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California with the LauncherOne rocket underwing for the company's "Tubular Bells: Part 1" mission on June 30, 2021. (Image credit: Virgin Orbit)

Space companies keep going public.

Small-satellite launch outfit Virgin Orbit, part of Richard Branson's Virgin Group, announced on Monday (Aug. 23) that it plans to go public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called NextGen Acquisition Corp. II. 

The deal values Virgin Orbit at $3.2 billion and will provide up to $483 million in cash proceeds, company representatives said in a statement. Virgin Orbit will retain its name and is expected to trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol "VORB."

In photos: Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket for satellite missions

Virgin Orbit lofts relatively small satellites using a 70-foot-long (21 meters) rocket called LauncherOne, which lifts off under the wing of a carrier aircraft known as Cosmic Girl and drops free after the plane reaches a predetermined location and altitude. This air-launch strategy is shared by the space tourism company Virgin Galactic, which is also part of the Virgin Group.

Virgin Orbit, which was founded in 2017, has aced two missions this year and is gearing up for a third one before the end of the year. The company aims to launch six missions in 2022 and continue ramping up its flight frequency from there.

A number of other high-profile space companies have gone public recently. Virgin Galactic did so in 2019, for example, and Virgin Orbit competitors Astra and Rocket Lab recently announced their own SPAC deals. 

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
SPACE.COM SENIOR SPACE WRITER — Michael has been writing for Space.com since 2010. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.