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A Virgin Orbit flight in January. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson

The small launch company Virgin Orbit announced this week that it's planning to go public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

The big picture: The news comes after a number of space companies have recently done the same, including Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit's sister company focused on human spaceflight.

What's happening: Under the terms of the SPAC, Virgin Orbit is valued at about $3.2 billion, with the deal expected to close by the end of the year.

  • Once the deal is closed, the company will be traded on the Nasdaq under the symbol VORB.
  • "The Virgin Orbit team has proven its ability to create new ideas, new approaches, and new capabilities," Virgin Orbit founder Richard Branson said in a statement.

How it works: Virgin Orbit uses a modified 747 plane with a small rocket affixed under its wing to launch payloads for government and private customers.

  • The plane reaches an altitude of about 35,000 feet above sea level before the rocket carrying the payload releases from the plane and kicks its engine on, bringing its satellites to orbit.
  • In January, Virgin Orbit launched its first successful test to orbit, and a commercial mission followed in June.

Between the lines: Going public via SPAC can be an attractive option because it's a way for space companies to diversify sources of revenue away from government funding.

  • Rocket Lab, another small launch company, is also going public via SPAC this year to help fund other ambitions like making larger rockets that could compete with SpaceX.
  • Yes, but: Going public can also leave these companies — many of which are relatively new and just starting commercial operations — open to the whims of the market, potentially creating more volatility.

Go deeper with Axios' short course on SPACs and Going Public.

Go deeper

Oct 5, 2021 - Podcasts
How It Happened

The Next Astronauts Part V: The Launch

In part five of How it Happened: The Next Astronauts, Axios space reporter Miriam Kramer follows the Inspiration4 crew to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to cover their launch and catches up with each of them after their return.

  • Kramer takes listeners to the press center at the Kennedy Space Center and inside of a pre-launch press conference with the four civilian astronauts the day before launch.
  • Kramer reports on the launch from on the ground and analyzes the livestream hosted by SpaceX, including the abrupt termination of real-time access to the crew once they reached orbit.
  • She tracks the crew during their three days in orbit, their high-risk descent back through the Earth's atmosphere, and what the safety and success of the mission means for the entire industry going forward.

Subscribe to How It Happened wherever you listen to podcasts.

  • For more of Miriam Kramer's space reporting, subscribe to Axios Space.

Credits: The Next Astronauts is reported and produced by Miriam Kramer, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alice Wilder. Dan Bobkoff is Executive Producer. Mixing, sound design, and music supervision by Alex Sugiura. Theme music and original score by Michael Hanf. Fact-checking and research by Jacob Knutson. Alison Snyder is a managing editor at Axios and Sara Kehaulani Goo is executive editor. Special thanks to Axios co-founders Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei and Roy Schwartz.

Oct 5, 2021 - World

Russian crew takes off to film first movie in space

From left: Actor Yulia Peresild, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and director Klim Shipenko. Photo: Roscosmos Press Service/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A Russian director and an actor blasted off into space on Tuesday to film the world's first movie in orbit, AP reports.

State of play: Director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild took off to the International Space Station along with cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov. They are set to stay in orbit for 12 days filming segments for their movie, "Challenge."

CDC approves boosters for Moderna and J&J

Boxes containing vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's independent advisory panel voted unanimously to recommend booster doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine for certain populations and allow people to mix-and-match doses.

The big picture: The agency aligns with the Food and Drug Administration authorization Wednesday night which said people could switch to whichever vaccine they wanted for their booster shot.