May 11 (UPI) -- British billionaire Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group conglomerate, will sell as many as 25 million of his shares in the Virgin Galactic space tourism venture, his company said Monday.
The Virgin Group said it's notified U.S. regulators of the plan, which has been influenced by sagging demand in the leisure, retail and travel industries.
Branson's shares are worth about $500 million and will be sold via Virgin subsidiary Vieco 10 Limited.
Virgin said it "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."
Virgin Galactic, unlike Virgin Group's airlines business, has performed well during the health crisis. Its value has nearly double since its October initial public offering from $2.3 billion to $4.3 billion.
Virgin Galactic has been developing space tourism ventures that intended to send passengers in jet-launched spacecraft at a cost of $250,000. Virgin has said it's in the final test stages and has already received more than 600 cash deposits. Branson has said he will go on the first trip, which was scheduled sometime this year.
Virgin Airlines asked the British government in March for up to $616 million in relief aid.