Middle East supplement: UAE ready to enter the space age

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Spaceflight could be the next frontier for the United Arab Emirates' burgeoning aerospace and aviation sector. The country is already building the world's biggest airport. Now it could be home to one of the first spaceports from which suborbital trips will be launched early next decade.

Virgin Galactic, which aims to launch its first suborbital flight from its New Mexico base in the next two years, is in talks with the UAE government about building one of a network of spaceports. One-time rival Space Adventures had already announced in 2006 that it was in talks about establishing a spaceport at Ras Al Khaimah, a small emirate north of Dubai, but its plans appear to have foundered.

Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn has said that the UAE's landscape and weather conditions make it ideal as a base for space flights, although the company has not yet confirmed a location.

The Gulf's ultra wealthy - along with others in easy reach of the UAE - could provide a ready market for space tourism. Virgin Galactic is already selling trips into space through a Dubai agency, Sharaf Travel.

"You've got a lot of people in that part of the world [the Middle East] who'd love to go to space," Whitehorn says.