Arabs to build satellite launch site

Chris Forrester

Abu Dhabi investment company Aabar Investments is to invest $280m in Richard Branson’s space tourism venture Virgin Galactic in return for a 32% share. Aabar will also put $100m into a ‘space port’ in Abu Dhabi.

The deal sees the Branson company valued at $900m despite not having yet launched a single tourist into space. Aabar’s $100m space port is being designed to handle smaller satellite launches. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic will continue to operate from a site in California’s Mojave Desert. An Aabar spokesman was not able to say whether the Abu Dhabi spaceport would offer human flights, or when it would come into operation.

"The significant partnership not only falls in line with Abu Dhabi's larger plans for technology research and science at a grassroots level but also complements its aim to be the international tourism capital of the region," said Khadem Al Qubaisi, Aabar's chairman.

Aabar is a major Abu Dhabi sovereign business, 72% owned by International Petroleum Investment Co, itself fully-owned by the Abu Dhabi government.

Virgin Galactic has firm bookings from 300 individuals each willing to pay $200,000 for a low-Earth orbit flight. Final tests of SpaceShipTwo, its latest space vehicle, is scheduled for later this year.