Virgin Galactic planning Arabia spaceport

UAE Space Agency inks MoU with Branson's space business

Al Ain Airport | Image credit: Seidco

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The UAE Space Agency has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company that outlines cooperation across different areas including plans to bring Virgin Galactic spaceflights to the UAE for education, science, technology research as well as potential space tourism flights in the future.

The MoU was signed by Director General of the UAE Space Agency, Mohammed Al Ahbabi and CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC), George Whitesides.

According to the agreement both the parties will plan for a SpaceShipTwo and carrier aircraft vehicle pair that would be operated from the UAE, cooperate with each other to develop a “Center of Excellence” for microgravity research in the UAE and develop spaceship operational plans for UAE’s Al Ain International Airport.

Al Ain International Airport was chosen because it was less crowded than the UAE’s other airports, including Dubai International and Abu Dhabi International Airport.

H.E. Mohammed Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency said: “This significant agreement builds on our longstanding relationship with the Virgin Group, with whom the Mubadala Investment Company jointly owns Virgin Galactic. It also reflects the advanced stage of the UAE’s space sector and our rapidly developing capabilities which, together with our partners at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, can enable the UAE to contribute to the manufacturing of space vehicles and commence spaceport operations within the next few years.”

George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic & TSC’s CEO said: “We appreciate the UAE’s long commitment to our program and we look forward to working with the UAE Space Agency and other partners in the UAE to push the frontiers of microgravity science, as together we inspire Emirati students and researchers to reach for the stars.”

In addition to its headquarters in the Mojave Desert, California, Virgin Galactic is already working on spaceport hubs in Puglia, Italy and last December, Virgin Group Founder, Richard Branson, said he’d welcome the opportunity to work with Australia’s Space Agency, based in South Australia.

The latest MoU with the UAE Space Agency comes after a recent study by multinational investment bank and financial services company, UBS, reported high speed travel via outer space is expected to represent an annual market of at least US$20 billion, competing with long-distance airline flights.

Space tourism alone will be a $3 billion market by 2030, CNBC reported, citing UBS.

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