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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

Could affordable space travel be closer than we think?

Virgin Galactic hopes exponential growth of space travel will result from private sector government partnerships

A shipment arrives at the International Space Station, where astronauts use a robotic arm to grab the 'SS John Young' cargo capsule, containing the UAE's MySat-1 satellite. SP
A shipment arrives at the International Space Station, where astronauts use a robotic arm to grab the 'SS John Young' cargo capsule, containing the UAE's MySat-1 satellite. SP

Mass public transport into space could be available within the next decade, an advisor to Virgin Galactic has claimed.

Steve Landeene, a senior executive to the Sir Richard Branson-backed project, said lowering costs was crucial to expanding private sector space travel.

On Tuesday, the Abu Dhabi Future Sustainability Summit heard how the company had grown its fleet of spacecraft to three.

Currently, a trip to the edge of space with Virgin Galactic costs around $250,000 (Dh980,000), but that is expected to fall to about $50,000 (Dh183,000) within 10 years.

“There is no other planet with this combination of environmental factors to sustain life as we have on Earth, so we need to expand our borders,” said Mr Landeene.

“If we can double the amount of astronauts in one year - that is the goal. Space is a unifying element that makes other industries possible.”

Government partnerships with the private sector are expected to be critical to helping expand the possibilities of space travel.

The MySat-1 satellite, developed by a team of Khalifa University students in Abu Dhabi, reached the international space station in November last year.

And the UAE also has strong hopes of launching a Mission to Mars programme by 2020.

“The private sector relies on governments to put in regulatory structures so it does not kill innovation,” said Mr Landeene.

“It’s important that governments make that investment to encourage innovation. When we work together, the progress is exponential.”

Cheaper space travel will also allow scientists to travel with their experiments to continue important research into new technologies, Mr Landeene argued.

“The first transatlantic flights were expensive but they have some down with scale, and that will also happen with space travel,” he said.

“Sir Richard Branson believes we need to do that to open up the market and use space travel as a mode of transport.

“A 10-year time horizon is not unreasonable for this to happen.”

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Updated: January 15, 2019 04:45 PM

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