Virgin Galactic shares erase 2021 gains after Richard Branson’s stake sale

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SpaceShipTwo “Unity” on the runway after an aborted spaceflight test on Dec. 12, 2020.
Virgin Galactic

Shares of Virgin Galactic dropped in trading on Thursday, erasing its 2021 gains after founder Richard Branson sold more stock.

The space tourism company’s stock has fallen 62% from its high above $60 a share in February, with losses accelerating after delays to its test flight program, and share sales by chairman Chamath Palihapitiya last month and now Branson this week.

Virgin Galactic shares fell as much as 12% in trading from its previous close of $26.68.

Branson, and four entities he controls including Virgin Group, sold just over $150 million of Virgin Galactic stock earlier this week.

A Virgin Group spokesperson told CNBC that the firm “intends to use the net proceeds from this sale to support its portfolio of global leisure, holiday and travel businesses that continue to be affected by the unprecedented impact of COVID-19.” It’s the second time Branson has sold Virgin Galactic stock to help Virgin Group, as he sold about $500 million of his stake last May.

Virgin Galactic continues to work to complete development of the spacecraft that it plans to use to fly people to the edge of space and back. The company suffered a setback in December, when electromagnetic interference caused an early abort of its most recent spaceflight attempt. The next attempt is expected in May.

The development delays have pushed back Virgin Galactic’s planned debut of its space tourism service, with CEO Michael Colglazier saying the company does not expect to begin flying commercial flights until early 2022.

Virgin Galactic expects to fly four more spaceflight tests with its “VSS Unity” spacecraft, including flying Branson this summer.

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