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Stratospheric ballooning company World View to go public in SPAC deal

Explorer Space Capsule
World View's Explorer Space Capsule will carry eight passengers and to crew to altitudes of about 30 kilometers, giving them high-altitude views of the Earth on flights lasting up to 12 hours. Credit: World View

SEATTLE — World View, a company that is developing stratospheric balloon platforms as an alternative to spacecraft for research and tourism, announced Jan. 13 it will go public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger.

World View said it will merge with Leo Holdings Corp. II, a SPAC on the New York Stock Exchange, in a deal that would value the company at $350 million. The companies said they expect the deal to close in the second quarter of the year. Bloomberg first reported the impending deal Jan. 12.

World View would receive up to $121 million in gross proceeds from the SPAC, assuming there are no redemptions by shareholders. However, many SPAC deals have seen high redemption rates, where SPAC shareholders ask for their money back rather than participate in the merged company, reducing the proceeds.

The companies said in the announcement that the gross proceeds may be accompanied by up to $75 million in additional financing, but the announcement offered no further details about the proposed financing. It is not uncommon for SPAC deals to be accompanied by a private investment round.

World View says it will use the funding from the SPAC deal to expand its business developing stratospheric platforms that can complement, or compete with, satellites. The company has conducted more than 120 stratospheric flights, working with a variety of companies and government agencies.

“Today’s announcement represents a major milestone in World View’s business model,” Ryan Hartman, president and chief executive of World View, said in the statement. “This merger with Leo allows us to scale our demonstrated expertise and strong foundation of strategic partnerships to meet the growing market demand for data and analytics from the stratosphere.”

World View was founded a decade ago to provide stratospheric tourist flights, offering views meant to emulate those from space. The company later pivoted to uncrewed balloon platforms it called “stratollites” that could carry communications, imaging or research payloads for applications that traditionally used either satellites or aircraft.

In October 2021, World View announced it would return to the tourism business, developing a balloon system and pressurized cabin to take up to 10 people to altitudes of about 30 kilometers for flights lasting 6 to 12 hours. The company says 1,200 people have reserved seats on those flights, with a ticket cost of $50,000, although the company has not disclosed how much revenue it has collected from those reservations.

World View provided little financial information as part of the SPAC announcement. Unlike some similar deals involving space or space-adjacent companies, there was no conference call to discuss the merger, and they did not release an investor presentation with financial details or projections.

Hartman said in October 2021, when the company announced its tourism plans, that the company was fully funded for the initial stage of development of the tourism system but did not disclose its anticipated cost. World View’s last announced financing before the SPAC deal was a $26.5 million Series C round in 2018.

The SPAC deal comes days after supervisors in Pima County, Arizona, approved a new lease agreement with the company for its headquarters. The county built the $14 million facility as part of an economic incentive package for the company, but a state court ruled, in a suit brought by a third party, it violated a “gift clause” provision in the state constitution.

According to local media, World View stopped paying rent on the facility while awaiting a new lease and was $400,000 behind in lease payments, but agreed to pay it back in the new lease agreement. As part of the lease, the company agreed to have at least 90 full-time employees working there this year, with a long-term goal of 125. The original lease agreement required the company to ultimately employ 400 people there.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree...