Branson's success story to drive UAE to develop space tourism plans

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Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, accompanied by his crew, speaks to the crowd while celebrating their flight to space. — AP
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, accompanied by his crew, speaks to the crowd while celebrating their flight to space. — AP

Dubai - Experts say Virgin Galactic's successful flight to space will pave ways for the UAE to develop space tourism as a new business model


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Mon 12 Jul 2021, 7:58 PM

Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson flying to the edge of space in his own rocket-powered space plane not only marks a milestone in the push to commercialise access to suborbital space, but this will also drive countries like the UAE that have their own space agencies to one day bring commercial space tourism here.

These are the thoughts of subject experts in the UAE and avid space gazers who remain fascinated about the final frontier.

A euphoric Richard Branson on Sunday averred: “It’s the complete experience of a lifetime,” as VSS Unity made its descent.

Apart from bolstering consumer confidence, whether for pleasure or for profit, experts highlight its inherent adventure is probably worth the risk that many are willing to undertake.

Hasan Al Hariri -CEO, Dubai Astronomy Group and Director Al Thuraya Astronomy Center, said: “Reaching space and staying there for four or five minutes is more about bolstering passion, enthusiasm and excitement…. Just like one would go for a roller coaster ride in a theme park. But it is also a mark of scientific advancement that allows a regular person to experience weightlessness that traditional astronauts have been experiencing in space.”

As per earlier reports, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company and its affiliates hold a 7.08 per cent stake or 14.88 million shares in the aerospace company, Virgin Galactic.

Hariri opined: “In this area, the UAE has already laid the stepping stone many years ago, as the visionaries in Mubadala have purchased part of the company’s shares. Based on this, Virgin Galactic had also committed to creating a spaceport in Al Ain. That plan is still on the table. Sunday’s success has certainly paved the way to build that spaceport. If this comes through, then not only for the UAE but for the entire region, this spaceport will be an iconic place that will renew the passion for space and space technologies among the existing and coming generations.”

There is imminent competition in this sphere as the race to space has already begun. Billionaire Jeff Bezos is slated to fly on July 20 on New Shepard, a suborbital rocket built by his company Blue Origin.

“The competition has started and we’ll see many more things like this. This will have a local impact too, where development of space and space programmes will further kick off. So, we are expecting to see much more involvement from the UAE to develop space programmes involving different aspects, like space tourism, making satellite operation, creating strategies for development of the space industry, to sending astronauts to the international space station and developing new space-oriented technologies,” explained Hariri.

Reiterating similar thoughts, Sarath Raj — project director of the Amity University Dubai Satellite Ground Station & programme leader of Aerospace Engineering at Amity University Dubai, said: “Following the developments by the UAE Space Agency and Virgin Galactic space company, we see a bright scope in commercial space tourism in the UAE region.”

He added: “Virgin Galactic is in compliance with the UAE’s model of improving its space economy in the ‘New Space’ economic field. The new space economic concept is different from the traditional space economy as the new space economic model proposes new schemes in the commercial market which are easily accessible to the laymen of a nation.

“National Space Strategy 2030 clearly envisioned space tourism as a new business model with the possibility of adding commercial aspects to it. The UAE's space sector is witness to global economic, technological, and geopolitical changes, and it emphasises the commercialisation of activities that will help to boost innovation, growth, and the development of new business models such as new launch systems, main and sub-components of small satellites, space debris mitigation and removal,” highlighted Raj.

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