Richard Branson will sell around US$0.5bn of his stake in space tourism company Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc (NYSE:SPCE) in order to pump funds into his other companies such as Virgin Atlantic. 

“Virgin intends to use any proceeds to support its portfolio of global leisure, holiday and travel businesses that have been affected by the unprecedented impact of COVID-19,” Branson’s Virgin Group said in a statement.

Up to 25mln shares, or 22% of Branson’s stake, of Virgin Galactic will be sold on the market in ad hoc sales by its stockbrokers, the privately held firm said. 

Last week Virgin Atlantic revealed that it will make a third of its staff redundant as part of its attempts to survive the drop-off in demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The transatlantic airline, which is 51%-owned by Virgin Group, has been unable to agreed the terms of a rescue package with the UK government, which forced Branson, who has an estimated fortune of more than £4bn, to put up his private Caribbean island as collateral.

The total 22% stake was worth over US$2.3bn based on Friday’s closing price of US$20.18 but Virgin Galactic shares fell 3% to US$19.49 in early trading on Wall Street on Monday. 

Virgin Galactic, which possess a commercial space launch license and plans to take passengers for a few minutes of weightlessness at the edge of space, reversed onto the stock market last October, with the price around US$10 and topped US$37 this February.

The company has taken around 600 reservations and roughly US$80mln in customer deposits, but has neither tied down a date for when first paying customers will fly nor how much they will have to pay. 

Original predictions it would be flying customers into space by 2007 have been pushed back many times, but earlier this year the company said that in light of its “strong progress towards commercial service” it was releasing its next tranche of seats for sale to the general public.