Rivals race for UAE launch space

Dubai
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Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures eye Ras Al-Khaimah as potential base for suborbital tourism flights

Rival space tourism ventures Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures could go head-to-head over plans to launch suborbital flights from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Virgin chairman Sir Richard Branson says Virgin Galactic will talk with authorities from the northernmost emirate Ras Al-Khaimah, where Space Adventures already has spaceport development plans in place.
“We are going to have discussions over the next week with the people who have approached us. It is a perfect region from which to operate flights and if discussions go well, it’s quite likely the UAE will see Virgin Galactic flights from here in the not-too-distant future,” said Branson, in Dubai last week for the launch of Virgin Atlantic’s service from London Heathrow.
Space Adventures in February announced plans to develop a commercial spaceport in Ras Al-Khaimah to add to other potential spaceport locations in Asia and North America.
The venture says the Ras Al-Khaimah spaceport development project will cost at least $265 million with shared investments by Space Adventures and the government of Ras Al-Khaimah and unspecified other funding. The UAE Department of Civilian Aviation has cleared suborbital spaceflights.
First flights for Virgin Galactic’s suborbital service will be from Mojave airport in California before moving to its preferred centre of operations in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic’s network of potential future spaceports includes the north of Scotland or Sweden, Ras Al-Khaimah and Australia.
Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn says the design for SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is frozen with construction of the commercial prototype expected to start this year. “We have taken, for commercial reasons, the deliberate decision of not unveiling the design until early next year,” says Whitehorn.
Virgin Galactic has increased the size of the SS2’s carrier vehicle, White Knight 2, to the size of a Boeing 757, while SS2 itself will be the size of a large-cabin Gulfstream IV business jet, designed to allow space tourists to experience weightlessness and spectacular views.
Whitehorn says that so far $13.1 million has been paid in deposits by 157 prospective customers.

AIMEE TURNER / DUBAI