UAE, Virgin Galactic sign agreement for space tourism flights

 The UAE Space Agency and Virgin Galactic have signed an agreement to open up the possibility of space tourism flights.

Under the agreement, the parties intend to plan for a SpaceShipTwo and carrier aircraft vehicle pair that would be operated from the UAE, collaborate to develop a ‘center of excellence’ for microgravity research in the UAE and develop spaceship operational plans for UAE’s Al Ain airport.

 The space vehicle will be used by customers in the UAE and the region as a science platform for high-frequency space research, as well as private individuals to experience space.

 Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency, and George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC), signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that outlines cooperation across a range of areas.

 These include plans to bring Virgin Galactic spaceflights to the UAE for education, science and technology research, as well as potential space tourism flights in the future.

 The agreement, coming shortly after Virgin Galactic’s historic commercial space flights in December 2018 and February 2019, marks an important step as the company progresses toward commercial operations, state news agency WAM reported on Monday.

 It added that the UAE is well positioned to cater to such an important potential activity following significant advances in the UAE space regulatory and investment environment.

 The agreement also builds upon the longtime UAE investment in Virgin Galactic and TSC, held by Mubadala Investment Company.

 Ahbabi 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."