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Thu 13 Aug 2009 07:35 AM

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Qatar, Bahrain eyed stake in Virgin Galactic - source

EXCLUSIVE: Two gov'ts were in talks to buy a stake in Branson’s space firm.

Both the Qatari and Bahraini governments were interested in buying a stake in Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic, industry sources have revealed.

A Saudi Arabian party and another private group from Abu Dhabi were also in talks with Branson, Arabian Business has learnt.

“There was a very competitive process going, where, at one point, there were four different groups bidding to be his [Branson’s] partner,” said one well-placed industry source.

Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic said: “We had discussions with lots of people, but we are not commenting on who we had discussions with.”

Last month Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments bought a 32 percent stake in Virgin Galactic for $280m, valuing the company at $900m.

Aabar also said it would provide an additional $100m for the development of a satellite launching vehicle.

But news that Qatar and Bahrain threw their hat into the ring for a stake in the space travel group shows how keen the Gulf region is to invest in space technology.

In addition to its one third equity stake, the deal gives Aabar exclusive regional rights to operate Virgin Galactic space flights.

The Abu-Dhabi based group is to build a spaceport in the emirate within the next five years.

The UAE launched its first earth observation satellite into space last month from Kazakhstan.

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