Saudi fund agrees plan to invest in Virgin space ventures

FILE PHOTO: People attend a job fair at a new Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company facility that will house the design and manufacturing of their small satellite launch vehicle in Long Beach, California March 7, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund plans to invest about $1 billion in Richard Branson’s space company, Virgin Galactic, and sister companies The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit, according to a joint statement published on Thursday.

“This investment will enable us to develop the next

generation of satellite launches and accelerate our programme for point to point supersonic space travel,” the statement quoted Branson, the British billionaire founder of London-based Virgin Group, Virgin Galactic’s owner, as saying.

“We are now just months away from Virgin Galactic going into space with people on board and Virgin Orbit going into

orbit and placing satellites around the Earth.”

Last year Virgin Galactic was granted an operating licence by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to fly its passenger rocketship with the world’s first paying space tourists aboard once final safety tests are completed.

Under a non-binding memorandum of understanding there is an option for $480 million of future additional investment in space services, said the statement, issued at the end of a three-day Saudi investment conference in the capital Riyadh.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said the deal reflected the progress the conservative kingdom was making towards creating a diversified, knowledge-based economy.

“The future of Saudi Arabia is one of innovation,” he said. “It’s through partnerships with organizations like Virgin Group that we will make active contributions to those sectors and technologies that are driving progress on a global scale.”

Reporting by Katie Paul, Reem Shamseddine and Sylvia Westall, Editing by William Maclean and ..... ..........