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Richard Branson: Virgin Galactic could send 'hundreds of thousands' of people into space

Virgin Galactic debuted on the New York Stock Exchange Monday morning as Sir Richard Branson's company became the first publicly traded space tourism company.

“Only 500 people have ever been to space, and that's including the Chinese, the Americans, the Russians. And we have the capability of putting hundreds of thousands of people in space in the years to come. And that's ridiculously exciting,” said Branson, who founded the company in 2004. “So here we are, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, launching the first spaceship company.“

In an interview with Yahoo Finance’s On the Move, Branson said taking the company public would give them the resources to do “wondrous things.” Virgin Galactic plans to take people to space as early as next year.

“We like to do things with a little bit of splash. We've got something quite exciting happening, which we will be announcing soon as to who's coming with me,” Branson said, referring to the inaugural flight, which will carry six passengers. “And so watch this space.”

Sir Richard Branson stands outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) ahead of the Virgin Galactic (SPCE) IPO in New York, U.S., October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Virgin Galactic completed its merger with Social Capital Hedosophia last week to create Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. which is now trading on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “SPCE.” The company, 15 years in the making, cost more than $1 billion to build.

Currently, traveling to space on a Virgin Galactic flight will cost a hefty $250,000 per seat. The company expects that cost to come down over the next five to 10 years as the business becomes more cost effective. According to Chamath Palihapitiya, Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings founder, the company has about 70% operating margins, “which means it’s as good of a business as a Google or Apple or a Facebook.”

Virgin Galactic expects to have five spaceships operating by 2023, shuttling approximately 1,500 customers annually. From there, the sky is the limit for those who can pay. And for those who can’t, the company plans to bring costs down by building spaceships faster, cheaper, and more efficiently. It has already started instituting manufacturing efficiencies in the spaceship and rocket production process, said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO.

So, how much will a ticket eventually cost once the Virgin Galactic reaches scale?

“I think, you know, if we have 20 or 30 spaceships or something, we will, you know, in 20 years time, the price will come down dramatically,” said Branson, declining to specify.

Yvette Killian is a producer for Yahoo Finance’s On The Move.

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