An Abu Dhabi investment group will acquire a 32% stake in Virgin Galactic with plans to use the White Knight II motherships to launch small satellites as well as carry small tourism spaceships to the upper atmosphere.
The Aabar Investments group will pay $280 million for the stake, valuing Virgin Galactic at around $900 million, and plans to invest another $100 million to develop the small satellite launch capability, it was announced at Oshkosh by Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson, its president Will Whitehorn and Aabar CEO Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny.
The deal will be subject to U.S. regulatory approval.
Aabar also plans to build spaceport facilities in Abu Dhabi, and will hold exclusive regional rights to host Virgin Galactic tourism and scientific research space flights.
Khadem Al Qubaisi, chairman of Aabar, said in a statement that the investment “will open a new avenue of opportunity for Abu Dhabi in this unique and dynamic business. The significant partnership not only falls in line with Abu Dhabi’s larger plans to inculcate technology research and science at a grassroots level but also complements its aim to be the international tourism capital of the region.”
The small satellite launch capability will offer unprecedented levels of cost, reliability and flexibility, he added.
Aabar is 71.23% owned by the International Petroleum Investment Co., which is fully-owned by Abu Dhabi's government. The emirate is pursuing a vision to become a world center for aerospace, technology and science research by 2020.