Virgin Galactic to build Spaceport Abu Dhabi

Ambitious project will cut UAE to US flight time to less than an hour.


Richard Branson’s Abu Dhabi-backed Virgin Galactic has appointed a senior executive to manage the establishment of a spaceport in the UAE capital, with the long-term aim of reducing the flight journey to the US to one hour.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides announced today Steve Landeene, a senior executive responsible for setting up Spaceport America in New Mexico, has been appointed to establish the company’s second base in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi state-backed investment firm Aabar Investments acquired a 32 percent stake in the company in 2009 and Whitesides said this was a further step in the partnership between the two companies.

“Under the 2009 deal the two companies agreed that Abu Dhabi would gain exclusive regional rights, subject to receipt of regulatory clearances, to host Virgin Galactic tourism and scientific research space flights," Whitesides said, speaking at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi.

“In his new role, Landeene will be responsible for developing the roadmap for the construction of a spaceport in Abu Dhabi, starting from financial, strategic and organisational business planning and, if the requisite regulatory approvals are approved, moving through to spaceport construction management,” he continued.

Whitesides added that a location for Spaceport Abu Dhabi had not yet been selected and potential sites would be evaluated once the regulatory requirements had been finalised.

From 2007 to 2010, Landeene worked as executive director of the Spaceport America project. The world’s first commercial spaceport, the US$200m facility in southwestern US is now in the final stages of construction and will be completed later this year.

“The appointment comes at an exciting time. Virgin Galactic has a beautiful home at Spaceport America in New Mexico. We look forward to the day when Virgin Galactic spaceships will be flying above this vibrant and forward looking city,” Whitesides said.

“Perhaps one day to see a future generation of our spaceships to fly from here to Abu Dhabi to New Mexico in no more than an hour… The first city pair in which the globe is once again brought closer together for the benefit of us all,” he added.

Earlier this year, Virgin Galactic received its 500th customer deposit, which at US$200,000 a ticket means it has potential future revenue of around US$100m.

“That business [sector] is just one piece of the overall commercial space market, worth billions of dollars overall,” Whitesides said.

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