Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan has bought a 32% stake in Virgin Galactic for $280m (£170m), in a deal that values Sir Richard Branson’s space venture at $900m.
The deal, bought through the Abu Dhabi sheikh’s investment vehicle Aabar, values Virgin Galactic at $900m, despite the fact it is yet to begin commercial operations.
In return it will gain regional rights to host Virgin Galactic tourism and research flights, and is planning to build spaceport facilities in Abu Dhabi. It has also committed $100m to fund plans to launch satellites.
Khadem Al Qubaisi, the chairman of Aabar, said the deal opened a “new avenue of opportunity” for Abu Dhabi.
“The significant partnership not only falls in line with Abu Dhabi’s larger plans to inculcate technology research and science at a grassroots level but also complements its aim to be the international tourism capital of the region,” he said.
Branson told The Telegraph: “We are delighted to partner with Aabar in a strategic deal that is a first for Virgin Galactic. The initiative will leverage the solid financial backing of Aabar and the pioneering technology and strong global relationships of Virgin Galactic.”
The announcement comes as Sir Richard unveils the so-called mothership, WhiteKnightTwo (VMS Eve), for his space tourism plans at the Oshkosh air convention in the US.
Virgin has invested more than $100m into Virgin Galactic since its launch in 2004 and expects the spacecraft that will carry the tourists, SpaceShipTwo, to begin testing later this year.
The investment from Aabar should finance the business until the start of commercial operations, for which a date has not yet been set.
Approximately 300 people, including Stephen Hawking and Formula One driver Rubens Barrichello, have paid $40m in deposits, representing $60m of ticket sales, to guarantee an early seat.