Los Angeles: Saudi Arabia’s primary wealth fund plans to invest about $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) in British billionaire Richard Branson’s three commercial space companies, including space tourism firm Virgin Galactic.
The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and Virgin Group said on Thursday that the money comes as part of a new partnership between the two. According to the agreement, the kingdom’s fund also has an option to invest an additional $480 million in “space services”.
In addition to Mojave-based Virgin Galactic, the investment will also go toward Virgin Orbit, a Long Beach firm that plans to launch small satellites from the belly of a modified commercial airliner, and the Spaceship Co., a Mojave firm that is building propulsion systems as well as the space plane and carrier aircraft for Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Group said in a statement that the investment will support human space flight plans, as well as increase Virgin Orbit’s manufacturing and operational capabilities and help develop “commercial supersonic point-to-point travel capabilities”. The statement also teased the possibility of developing a “space centric entertainment industry” in Saudi Arabia.
The investment, which is still subject to regulatory approval, will give the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s fund a “significant stake” in the three Virgin space companies. Virgin Group did not disclose how much of the companies the Saudis will hold, but a company spokesman said Virgin Group remains the majority shareholder. Abu Dhabi investment firm Aabar Investments also has a stake in the companies.
Virgin Galactic has been conducting test flights in Mojave of its SpaceShipTwo space plane, which is intended to take paying customers into suborbital space.
While the company has not yet released a specific date for its first customer flight, Branson said in the statement that Virgin Galactic was “months away” from going into space with people aboard.