Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency, and George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that outlines cooperation across a range of areas including plans to bring Virgin Galactic spaceflights to the UAE for education, science and technology research, as well as potential space tourism flights in the future. Dr. Ahmad bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, attended the signing ceremony.
The agreement, coming shortly after Virgin Galactic’s historic commercial space flights in December 2018 and February 2019, marks an important step as the company progresses toward commercial operations. Following significant advances in the UAE space regulatory and investment environment, including the recently developed Human Space Flight regulations that enable such activities from its territory, as well as the UAE Space Agency National Investment Promotion Plan, the UAE is well positioned to cater to such an important potential activity. The agreement also builds upon the longtime UAE investment in Virgin Galactic and TSC, held by Mubadala Investment Company.
Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency, said: “This significant agreement builds on our longstanding relationship with the Virgin Group, with whom the Mubadala Investment Company jointly owns Virgin Galactic. It also reflects the advanced stage of the UAE’s space sector and our rapidly developing capabilities which, together with our partners at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, can enable the UAE to contribute to the manufacturing of space vehicles and commence spaceport operations within the next few years.”
George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic and TSC’s CEO, said: “We appreciate the UAE’s long commitment to our programme and we look forward to working with the UAE Space Agency and other partners in the UAE to push the frontiers of microgravity science, as together we inspire Emirati students and researchers to reach for the stars.”
Under the agreement, the parties intend to: plan for a SpaceShipTwo and carrier aircraft vehicle pair that would be operated from the UAE; collaborate to develop a “Center of Excellence” for microgravity research in the UAE; and develop spaceship operational plans for UAE’s Al Ain airport.
The space vehicle will be utilized by customers in the UAE and the region as a science platform for high-frequency space research, as well as private individuals to experience space. This dual nature will drive innovation, spur industrial development, STEM education, as well as promote further investments and economic growth in the UAE.
“Today’s signing also comes within the context of our recently announced National Plan for the Promotion of Space Investment, which aims to increase domestic and foreign investment in the UAE space sector. By working to develop our space ecosystem, we will be further contributing to the UAE’s business-friendly environment and ensuring that space start-ups and investors feel welcome and have access to the unique space infrastructure they require to grow and develop,” concluded Dr. Al Ahbabi.
This collaboration promises to leverage the well-established infrastructure that the city of Al Ain has built over the years, which includes entities such as Strata, Nibras, AMMROC, Al Ain Airport, and the National Space, Science, and Technology Center at the UAE University.