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Virgin Galactic launches move towards public trading

It'll make Richard Branson's venture the first publicly listed space tourism company, ahead of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX.

UK - Farnborough - Model of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (SS2)
Virgin Galactic may become the first publicly listed human spaceflight company.
Richard Baker/In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

Virgin Galactic is preparing to become a publicly traded company later this year, which would make it the first human spaceflight venture to do so. Richard Branson's space tourism company will merge with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings, giving the special-purpose acquisition company a 49% stake, it said in a release Tuesday. 

SCH will invest around $800 million, The Wall Street Journal reported. It'll fund the business as it races Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX to operate commercially and make a profit. 

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"We are at the dawn of a new space age, with huge potential to improve and sustain life on Earth," Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said in the release. "I am delighted that SCH has decided to become such an important part of our amazing journey."

Chamath Palihapitiya, SCH's founder, hailed Branson as "a once-in-a-generation visionary" and said Virgin Galactic is "light years ahead of the competition."

The news comes nearly two months after Virgin Galactic moved its permanent home to New Mexico's Spaceport America. At the time, Branson said he hopes to take his first flight to space aboard one of Virgin's vehicles by the end of 2019. It hasn't been an easy road getting here: The company has seen some major setbacks, like a deadly crash during a 2014 test.

The companies expect the merger to be completed before the end of the year.

First published at 2:39 a.m. PT.
Updated at 3:45 a.m. PT: Adds more detail.