The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) has announced its intention to invest $1bn in Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company, and Virgin Orbit
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia plans to invest around $1bn in Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit. PIF and Virgin Group announced the signature of a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that includes an option for $480m of future additional investment in space services.
The Spaceship Company is the design and production arm of space tourism company Virgin Galactic, while Virgin Orbit is focused on small satellite launch systems.
The announcement was made on 26th October at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh. The partnership fits into Saudi Arabia's overarching Vision 2030 plan to diversify the Saudi economy by reducing dependence on oil.
The intended investment will result in PIF taking “a significant stake” in Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit, alongside Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments. Virgin says it will retain majority ownership in all three companies. Plans include the possible development of “a space-centric entertainment industry” in Saudi Arabia.
Branson described the partnership as a sign of confidence from the international investment community in the company's space tourism programme which is now years behind schedule and has yet to demonstrate the ability to achieve the performance needed to carry passengers to the edge of space.
It comes three years after the loss of VSS Enterprise, the first air-launched SpaceShipTwo vehicle, in October 2014. The vehicle was destroyed following premature deployment of the feather mechanism, designed to increase stability and drag during re-entry by moving the tail stabilizers from horizontal to vertical position.
VSS Unity, the second SpaceShipTwo vehicle, made its first gliding test flight in December 2016.