x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Abu Dhabi ready for blast-off with Spaceport selection

Abu Dhabi is to be out front in a charge to the final frontier after Virgin Galactic chose the emirate to be the location for its second Spaceport.

Virgin Galactic already has a Spaceport in the New Mexico desert in the south-western United States. AP Photo
Virgin Galactic already has a Spaceport in the New Mexico desert in the south-western United States. AP Photo

Abu Dhabi is to be out front in a charge to the final frontier after Virgin Galactic chose the emirate to be the location for its second Spaceport.

Sir Richard Branson formed the company because as a boy he watched the Moon landings and decided "I want to go there too". Virgin Galactic already has a Spaceport in the New Mexico desert in the south-western United States.

Yesterday, George Whitesides, a former chief of staff at Nasa and now Virgin Galactic's chief executive, announced the UAE's news in his address to the Global Aerospace Summit at the St Regis Hotel on Saadiyat Island.

"I look forward to the day when Virgin Galactic spaceships can be seen above this vibrant and forward-looking city and perhaps one day to see a future generation of our spaceships fly from here in Abu Dhabi to New Mexico in no more than an hour, the first city pair of a future in which the globe is brought closer together," said Mr Whitesides.

Virgin Galactic marked the announcement with the appointment of a chief adviser for the proposed Spaceport Abu Dhabi.

He is Steve Landeene, the former executive director of Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world's first commercial spaceport.

"This an important step towards bringing the vision of space flight from Abu Dhabi to fruition, underscoring Abu Dhabi's commitment to being an international destination of choice and a regional leader in tourism, advanced science, technology and higher education", said Mr Whitesides.

He said Virgin Galactic had begun planning for its project, which would involve the company's Space Ship Two carrying the White Knight Two space vehicle with six passengers and two crew members into low Earth orbit at a cost of US$200,000 (Dh734,640) a passenger. "One of the first tasks for this initiative will be to engage on the regulatory requirements and then to begin to consider suitable potential locations," said Mr Whitesides.

"Our main requirements will be for a long runway, and a nearby zone of airspace for the ascent stage.

"The Spaceport could become the hub of a space and science centre, with activities for vacationing families as well as for regional students. There may be links to local university programmes - perhaps even to integrate actual spaceflight experiences with university degree programmes."

Mohamed Al Husseiny, the chief executive of Aabar Investments, which is partnering Virgin Galactic on the project, said: "We are at the dawn of a new era in commercial space and are perfectly positioned with the world's first spaceline to ensure that we are a prime beneficiary of the opportunities that will follow.

"This will become a regional hub for space tourism, as well as space-based science research and education."

dblack@thenational.ae