Richard Branson has gained a powerful and extremely wealthy ally that can make his space tourism dreams a reality: Saudi Arabia. The kingdom will invest $1 billion in the Virgin Group’s space companies and might even add $480 million more in the future. Saudi’s investment will fund three companies within the Virgin Group, starting with Virgin Galactic, which is responsible for developing the VSS Unity (also known as SpaceShipTwo) designed to fly paying tourists to suborbital space. Part of the money will also go to The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit. The former manufactures Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, while the latter provides launch services for small satellites.
In a letter he published regarding the investment, Branson said Saudi’s contribution will enable Virgin “to develop the next generation of human spaceflight, more economic satellite launches and accelerate [its] program for trans-continental point-to-point space travel.” The investment still has to go through US regulatory clearances, but he takes it as “a sign of confidence from the international investment community” that its vision is the right path to commercializing access to space. More importantly, Sir Branson has revealed that Virgin Galactic is merely months away from sending people into space.
Although Saudi’s contribution will come from the country’s Public Investment Funds, Virgin will remain based in the US. The partnership could lead to the development of a space-centric center in Saudi Arabia, though — Virgin even commissioned an artist to draw a render of the futuristic facility, which you can see in the image above.