Will Virgin Galactic flights launch from UAE soon?


Will Virgin Galactic flights launch from UAE soon?

Dubai - Country is now in "advance talks" with Virgin Galactic to use UAE as one of their main take-off and landing destinations.

By Sarwat Nasir

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Published: Sun 16 Dec 2018, 3:19 PM

Last updated: Sun 16 Dec 2018, 9:51 PM

With Virgin Galactic's recent successful test flight to space, UAE's commercial space sector could see a significant boost once the firm agrees to start operating their space tourism flights from a UAE spaceport.
In fact, the UAE is now in "advance talks" with Virgin Galactic to use UAE as one of their main take-off and landing destinations once more tickets are sold, the director-general of the UAE Space Agency, Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the launch of the Winter Space and Rocketry Academy Camp being held by Compass International.
Richard Branson is the owner of Virgin Galactic, however, UAE's Aabar Investments owns nearly a third of the company.
Building a spaceport in Abu Dhabi has been in talks for several years, however, space tourism was mostly considered as "science-fiction" as no manned commercial spaceflight had ever reached space. In 2014, Virgin Galactic's first attempt ended in disaster as the vehicle ripped apart in mid-air and killed the co-pilot.
Now, it's slowly becoming a reality after two pilots were finally able to reach the edge of space onboard a Virgin Galactic flight on December 13.
Dr Ahbabi said: "It's a great milestone for space tourism and I think it's evidence that we are actually so close to the operation of space tourism. We are talking to Virgin Galactic to try to position UAE as potential place for space tourism in the future. We have discussions with Virgin Galactic to fly from the UAE in the future. As you know, UAE is a shareholder of Virgin Galactic. We are having a mature and advanced discussion with them that when they are ready and they have more passengers, they can come and fly from the UAE."
He added that only a regular horizontal runway would be required to launch Virgin Galactic flights because of the type of spacecraft.
The price for a seat on a Virgin Galactic suborbital flight costs $250,000. More than 600 tickets have already been sold and seats are full until 2021.
The push to launch space tourism flights from the UAE is a long-term plan for the country's National Space Programme.
New regulations are being drawn to attract more investors into the country's space industry, according to Dr Ahbabi, who added that a space law with specific details about space mining, investments and space tourism will be out soon. So far, more than $20 billion has been invested into the country's space industry activities.
"This is part of our space investment strategy. We try to encourage investors to come and invest in the country. The government has approved the space law and if you're an investor and plan to move to the UAE, the first major thing you'll think about is regulations and if you have assurance of your activities and capabilities - this is what we're investing in," he said.
"What's significant about the law is that it is the law of tomorrow, meaning it's discussing and preparing for future space activities, for example, space tourism. If you want to fly people out, of course, there are so many regulations. The law will be one of its kind which discusses space tourism and space resources, such as space mining."
The race for space tourism has been ongoing for several years by three billionaires - Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos.
The first space tourist was American millionaire Dennis Tito, who paid $20million to spend eight days in the International Space Station with astronauts.

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