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Why Virgin Galactic Stock Popped on Tuesday

By Rich Smith - Jun 8, 2021 at 11:40AM

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Jeff Bezos is going into space -- but Sir Richard Branson might beat him there.

What happened

Shares of Virgin Galactic Holdings (SPCE -4.82%) had jumped 5.2% as of 11:28 a.m. EDT today following rival Blue Origin's announcement yesterday that Jeff Bezos has decided to fly on Blue Origin's first manned space tourism flight scheduled for July 20.

The reason: While Bezos clearly intends to become the first space company CEO to fly on his own rocket, he could end up only in second place.

SpaceShipTwo seen from below

Image source: Virgin Galactic.

So what

Today's news comes from ParabolicArc.com, which broke the news that over the July 4 weekend, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson could join his crew on a suborbital test flight of the VSS Unity spaceplane.

This is not a done deal. Parabolic Arc's source is anonymous, so the company itself hasn't confirmed this. Also, this source revealed that Branson's flight is "contingent upon obtaining [a commercial reusable spacecraft] operator's license from the Federal Aviation Administration." Because Branson himself is not a licensed pilot of the spaceplane, he's technically only a passenger, and so Virgin Galactic needs a specific license for him to go along for the ride, despite the fact that he owns the company.

Also, it's not yet certain Virgin Galactic will be able to get both the VSS Unity and its VMS mothership ready to fly again by July 4, which would be just 44 days since their last paired flight. (Historically, Virgin has needed at least two full months to get its spaceplane ready for a another flight.)

Now what

Still, if the rumor is true, then it means that Branson could arrive in space before Bezos does -- beating Branson's archrival in space tourism by as much as two full weeks, and scoring a public relations coup in the process.

Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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