UAE ready to fuel space tourism

Investors look upwards as the industry offers new opportunities for nation

  • Space tourism is expected to pick up in the next decade
    Space tourism is expected to pick up in the next decade as a number of companies are entering this sector. IncImage Credit: Gulf News
  • Space tourism is expected to pick up in the next decade
    Space tourism is expected to pick up in the next decade as a number of companies are entering this sector. IncImage Credit: Gulf News
07 Gulf News

Dubai: UAE investors increasingly look towards space for investments as the $7.5 billion (Dh27.5 billion) space tourism industry is set to take off.

"Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace have already set up investment deals with UAE groups and perhaps it's only a matter of time before we see another international space company's development being funded from the Middle East," Nick Webb, Director, Streamline Marketing Group, organisers of the Global Space and Satellite Forum (GSSF) 2011, said.

The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) and US-based Bigelow Aerospace recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a commercial human space flight programme for Dubai and the UAE.

They will join forces to build a micro-gravity research and development programme and other space-related activities.

"The partnership of EIAST with Bigelow Aerospace is a critical next step forward for the organisation in exploring the potential for human space flight programmes.

"The MoU will not only elevate Dubai to a stronger global platform as a facilitator of commercial human space flight but also create more opportunities for people anywhere in the world to take advantage of our initiatives to experience the marvels of space travel," Ahmad Al Mansouri, director-general of the EIAST, said.

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which is partly owned by Abu Dhabi based Aabar, also plans to bring space tourism to the UAE by building a space port in Abu Dhabi as soon as it gets approvals from US authorities.

At the moment the cost of a return ticket to outer space for the first flights is between $95,000 and $200,000, depending on the flight provider, but these prices are expected to fall as capacity increases. Some experts estimate that the typical price to fly into space by 2030 will be around $25,000.

"Even if we take a conservative estimate of the market size to be around 250,000 to 300,000 people travelling into space by 2030, we're looking at an industry worth up to $7.5 billion," Webb added.

As with most pioneering technology a continuous stream of funding will be required and the GCC region has the advantage of robust oil prices, liquidity and substantial sovereign wealth funds.

The combined sovereign wealth funds of the GCC countries are over $1.36 trillion, the largest being Abu Dhabi at an estimated $664 billion, with Saudi Arabia at $420 billion and Kuwait $203 billion, Qatar $65 billion, Dubai $19.6 billion and Oman $8.2 billion, according to a 2010 report by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

"...We are witnessing the dawn of a new industry that will change the way we live life here on Earth.

"Robust and reliable access to micro-gravity will impact fields as diverse as pharmaceutical development to fuel production, representing a broad and substantial technological leap forward.

"The countries and companies that have the foresight to develop early access to orbital capabilities and infrastructure will become the economic and technological leaders of the future," Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, said.

Opportunities in the commercial space and satellite industry available for private and public investors will be discussed at the third annual Global Space and Satellite Forum to be held in Abu Dhabi from May 9 to 11.

GSSF is supported by the UAE Space Reconnaissance Centre, Nasa, EIAST, UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, the National Research Foundation, the Association of Specialist Technical Organisations for Space, the Society of Satellite Professionals International and the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies.

Is the chance to travel in space worth paying Dh734,000? Or would you prefer to wait until space tourism picks up and the price comes down?

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