The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia intends to invest $1 billion in Virgin group space companies, according to billionaire Richard Branson’s conglomerate on Thursday.
The contract is described as a “partnership on spaceflight, satellite launch and space-centric entertainment,” backed by the public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. The venture will fuel 3 Virgin companies – Virgin Galactic, The spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit – and includes an option for an additional $480 million.
“This partnership with Virgin group reflects the good strides the kingdom is creating towards our vision for a diversified, knowledge-based economy,” Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a statement.
In a post on Virgin’s web site, Branson wrote that the investment “is a sign of confidence from the international community” in the 3 companies, which he emphasized can remain based in the Southwestern U.S.
“We are currently just months away from Virgin Galactic sending folks into space and Virgin Orbit placing satellites around the Earth,” Branson said.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) October 26, 2017
His space company, Virgin Galactic, has yet to send a manned craft into space — but that will shortly change. He said the space vehicle VSS Unity “should be in space in about four months.”Virgin Orbit is a further endeavor by Branson, that he spun off from Virgin Galactic to build air-launched rockets to send dozens of small satellites into orbit. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system is still in development. the corporate is planning the rocket’s 1st test flight for early next year, with the system’s Boeing 747-400 launcher in its final stages of flight testing.
Saudi Arabia’s investment, subject to regulatory approval, would give the country “a significant stake” in the firms, but Branson says Virgin “will remain majority shareholders.”