Virgin Galactic, a space enterprise funded by billionaire Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, is interested in building a spaceport in Abu Dhabi as soon as it gets requisite approvals from US authorities, a top company executive told Emirates 24|7.
“We have focused on launching and running safe commercial sub-orbital tourism flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico. However, in the future we may seek regulatory approvals from the US authorities required to take the system and operation out of the US. If we do that and are successful then Abu Dhabi is likely to be a location of particular interest,” said Stephen Attenborough, Commercial Director, Virgin Galactic.
In 2009, Aabar Investments purchased a 32 per cent stake in Virgin Galactic for $280 million.
Attenborough also added that while six UAE residents have booked a seat on Virgin’s spaceflight, the first to fly amongst the 100 commercial passengers will be an Emirati.
“We have now well in excess of 400 people from around the world who have made reservations and paid deposits for our up-coming sub-orbital spaceflights. Deposits are fully refundable and we occasionally have customers whose circumstances change resulting in reservations being cancelled, including two from the UAE a couple of years back,” he said.
Asked if Virgin Galactic had set any booking target from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Attenborough said they don't set targets per region, but generally speaking sales have been extremely strong.
“Each day during November (2010), we saw a new Virgin Galactic future astronaut signing up for a spaceflight.”
He reiterated the company has always said it wants to make the price of flights progressively more affordable. It charges $200,000 for the trips. Each launch will have six passengers and two pilots who will fly up into sub-orbital space, stay there for five minutes and return.
Dubai-based Sharaf Travel is the only accredited space agent for the Middle East.
In a recent interview, George Whitesides, Chief Executive, Virgin Galactic, said the company is testing its space ships now and plans on sending its first commercial flight into space in 2012.
EIAST signs pact to build spacecraft
The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) and Bigelow Aerospace LLC have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish a next-generation commercial human spaceflight programme for Dubai and the UAE, leveraging recent advances in human spaceflight, reported 'Gulf Today'.
Both will work to create a world-class microgravity research and development programme with a potential focus on advanced biotechnology applications and a variety of other commercial space-related activities.
The two organisations will work to open the frontiers of space to all of humanity, and provide citizens of Dubai and the UAE with the unparalleled opportunity to leverage the scientific, commercial, and educational benefits of orbital human spaceflight that have been previously and primarily enjoyed only by a handful of nations.
The MoU was signed by Ahmed Al Mansoori, the director-general of EIAST, and Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace.