UAE Fund Buys into Virgin Space Venture

DUBAI - As the UAE prepared for Wednesday’s launch of its first satellite, an Abu Dhabi-based investment fund said it was buying a 32 per cent chunk of Virgin Galactic Ltd., a unit of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group that plans to send tourists on expensive joy-rides into space.

By Rocel Felix And Bruce Stanley

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Published: Thu 30 Jul 2009, 12:55 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 8:04 PM

Aabar Investments has agreed to invest $280 million in Virgin Galactic to help develop sub-orbital spacecraft for the world’s first commercial ‘spaceline’.

The Virgin Galactic WhiteKnight2 mothership ‘Eve’ during its public debut this week at the world’s largest airUnder a deal anounced on Tuesday, Aabar would get exclusive rights to host Virgin Galactic tourism and scientific space flights and would also build a spaceport in Abu Dhabi.

‘Aabar’s stake in Virgin Galactic will open a new avenue of opportunity for Abu Dhabi in this unique and dynamic business,’ Aabar Chairman Khadem Al Qubaisi said in a joint statement.

The investment is subject to regulatory approval in the United States and elsewhere.

Aaabar said it would spend an additional $100 million to finance a small satellite launch programme, subject to a valid business plan.

Virgin Galactic is the latest in a string of high-profile acquisitions for Aabar, an Abu Dhabi-listed firm controlled by the emirate’s International Petroleum Investment Company. In March, Aabar bought a 9.1 percent share of Germany’s Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz cars. It snapped up a 4 per cent stake in electric-car producer Tesla Motors earlier this month.

Al Qubaisi said that Aabar’s partnership with Virgin Galactic fits with Abu Dhabi’s grander plans to promote technology research and science and to become the Gulf region’s hub for international tourism.

‘This transaction carries multiple potential for the creation of an exceptional platform for space infrastructure such as research labs, space centre for commercial travel and much more,’ added Aabar Chief Executive Officer Mohammed Badawy Al Husseiny.

Branson, flamboyant founder of Britain’s Virgin Atlantic Airways and other businesses, said the agreement would combine Aabar’s ‘solid financial backing’ with Virgin Galactic’s ‘pioneering technology’.

The Virgin Group has invested more than $100 million in Virgin Galactic to develop new space vehicles following the successful flights of its prototype SpaceShipOne in 2004.

‘We will begin testing (them) in the next year or so,’ Virgin Group spokesman Nick Fox told Khaleej Times from his London office.

The spacecraft would be launched from a special carrier airplane at a high altitude, soar into space and land on a runway.

Virgin has already signed up 300 customers, Fox said, at $200,000 a head.

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