Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc., a commercial spaceflight company backed by billionaire Richard Branson, has hired Michelle Kley as its new general counsel.
The top legal role is a new one for Virgin Galactic, which in July became the world’s first publicly traded space tourism venture when it merged with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. (SCH), a New York-based special purpose acquisition company. Virgin Galactic announced Kley’s hire Dec. 17.
The union, which saw Virgin Galactic LLC tap Latham & Watkins and SCH turn to Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom for outside counsel, created a public parent company in Virgin Galactic Holdings.
Vanessa Chandler, former senior counsel for global trade compliance at defense contractor Raytheon Co. who joined Virgin Galactic as general counsel in 2017, will remain the top in-house lawyer for Virgin Galactic LLC, the legacy company privately held by Branson.
Chandler told Bloomberg Law that she and Jeri Rouse Looney, general counsel of The Spaceflight Co., Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing arm, are now the top in-house lawyers for the public Virgin Galactic company’s two primary operating subsidiaries.
Joining that in-house duo is Kley, who until earlier this year served as chief legal officer and general counsel at Maxar Technologies Inc., a Westminster, Colo.-based space technology company once known as MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates. Maxar hired former Aramark Corp. deputy general counsel James Lee to replace Kley as general counsel in April.
Kley will now serve as general counsel, executive vice president of legal, and corporate secretary for Virgin Galactic. In a statement by the company announcing her hire, Kley said that “Virgin Galactic is on the verge of providing the space experience to many people and has the potential to transform the way we perceive the opportunity space exploration provides.”
George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic’s CEO, said in the company’s announcement that the former Morrison & Foerster and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati associate will “help support our ambitions as a publicly listed company.”
Whitesides added that Kley has a “proven track record of leading legal teams” and said her “breadth of knowledge in the space industry will be key in supporting Virgin Galactic’s business units and senior leadership team.”
Kley’s appointment comes exactly a year after Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane reached space during a test flight. Virgin Galactic is relocating its headquarters from Mojave, Calif., to Las Cruces, N.M., where the company has built Spaceport America, a facility for commercial space flights.