Stellar vision held by Abu Dhabi Company buying Virgin Galactic stake

It has appeared that a 32 per cent stake in Virgin Galactic, the commercial space venture of entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, is being mulled to be bought by an Abu Dhabi state-linked investment company. This move is the latest sign of the oil-rich emirate's rising ambitions.

A sum of $280m (£170m) would be paid by Aabar Investments for the holding in the company, which was unveiled in 2004 with the motive to commence flying private passengers to space within two years, at a cost of $200,000 per ticket.

Furthermore, Abu Dhabi also has in its mind to invest an extra $100m with the aim of paying for research, which would give Virgin Galactic the option of launching small satellites from unmanned rockets.

According to Will Whitehorn, Virgin Galactic's president, a significant boost would be provided by the new investment.

He said: "It completely funds the project through to commerciality. It gives us a kick start to get the satellite capability going and I think they will be a great partner. They [Aabar] have got a very strong ambition to invest in transportation and technology, and Abu Dhabi has strong ambitions in developing science within the emirate. This project seemed to fit both criteria for them."

Aabar would acquire elite regional rights, under the deal, to host tourism and scientific research space flights, if it builds a spaceport facility in Abu Dhabi. It should be noted that the deal has not yet got regulatory clearance.

Already on Virgin Galactic's mothership, test flights have commenced, while the spaceship will initiate test flights in four months.

Mr. Whitehorn said: "The first commercial passengers could fly within the next 18 to 24 months"; he added, "Although Virgin still requires a licence from the Federal Aviation Administration."

Almost a sum of $40m in deposits has been paid by nearly 300 people, who hope to travel into space.