UAE to launch outer space tourist trips, says Virgin Galactic CEO

The company is developing commercial spacecraft and aiming to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists and suborbital launches for space science missions.

  
Virgin Galactic's new spaceship N202VG, which the company began building 2 and a half years ago, is seen in a hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California November 4, 2014.

Virgin Galactic's new spaceship N202VG, which the company began building 2 and a half years ago, is seen in a hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California November 4, 2014.

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Abu Dhabi –  The UAE is one of the few countries across the world that will launch tourist trips to outer space in the future in partnership with Virgin Galactic, a spaceflight company within the Virgin Group.

The company is developing commercial spacecraft and aiming to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists and suborbital launches for space science missions.

The company is grateful for being a partner to the UAE, George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in an interview with Mubasher.

He added that Virgin Galactic is not yet ready to determine a specific date to launch this trip, noting that the process will take place using normal runways for takeoff and landing.

It is worth noting that Virgin Galactic, which was founded by Sir Richard Branson and owned by the Virgin Group and Mubadala Investment Group, has successfully launched a rocket plan into space for the first time on Thursday, 20 December.

SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, reached an altitude of 82,682 metres after being released by its carrier plane at 13,106m. It reached a top speed of 2.9 times the speed of sound.

The airplane took off on Thursday from California’s Mojave air and spaceport.

However, up to 600 people have paid or put down deposits to fly aboard Virgin’s suborbital flights, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop star Justin Bieber.

The 90-minute flight will cost $250,000.

Below is Mubasher’s exclusive interview with George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic:

Mubasher: Is the UAE likely to be one of the few countries that will witness the launch of tourist trips to outer space in the future? And when do you expect that to happen?

George Whitesides: Virgin Galactic is grateful for the long-term partnership it has with the UAE, and excited about future prospects to bring human spaceflight capability to the Emirates. We are not yet ready to discuss a specific date at this time, but can say that because the Virgin Galactic system uses a normal runway for its takeoff and landing, the operation can be set up with minimal additional infrastructure.

Mubasher: Are there any negotiations taking place between Virgin Galactic and the government of the UAE or other governments in the Gulf in this regard?

George Whitesides: We have been discussing the prospect of bringing human spaceflight capability to the UAE, which will require governmental approvals from the UAE and the US. These discussions are exciting and we will release more information when ready.

Mubasher: Is Virgin Galactic looking for long-term partnerships with the UAE or other Gulf countries? Does this require government approvals from the UAE and the US?

George Whitesides: Virgin Galactic has a long-term partnership with the UAE and we are enthusiastic about the future prospects of bringing human spaceflights to the country. Yes, this will require obtaining government approvals from the UAE and the United States.

Mubasher: Will this increase the number of tourists visiting the UAE and the Gulf in general, and by how much?

George Whitesides: During its time in operation, the US Space Shuttle attracted crowds of hundreds of thousands of tourists to Florida for each launch. Human spaceflight is an intrinsically exciting activity that attracts broad public interest and inspires youth to pursue science and technology related fields. A spaceflight operation in the region, if approved by relevant government authorities, would seem likely to drive significant additional tourist visits.

 

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