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Wed 11 Jun 2008 10:54 AM

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Virgin to launch space flights from UAE

EXCLUSIVE: Virgin Galactic to launch flights to space from UAE spaceport - president.

Virgin Galactic is planning to launch flights to space from the UAE, the company's president has revealed.

The company hopes to start flights into space from a spaceport it plans to build in the UAE within two years of the service taking off from its worldwide operating base in New Mexico, Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic said in an exclusive interview.

He said the company, the first to launch commercial flights to space, had received “a number of approaches” from authorities in the UAE regarding the opening of a spaceport and it planned to start talks with government and civil aviation authorities regarding the scheme.

“We have had a number of approaches and we’re following up on those at the moment. We’ll be talking to both government authorities and aviation authorities.

“It would be after we’ve started flying for at least a couple of years and subject to regulatory approval,” he said.

Whitehorn said the landscape and weather conditions in the UAE would make it an ideal base for space flights.

“There’s good weather to operate all the year round, you get a spectacular view of both land, sea, sand, desert and mountains - which is quite a nice combination.”

He added there would be high demand for the intergalactic flights from customers in the Middle East, revealing that 254 Virgin Galactic tickets had been sold worldwide so far with another $36 million worth of deposits having been paid to reserve tickets.

“You’ve obviously got a lot of people in that part of the world (the Middle East) who’d love to go to space.”

Whitehorn said other locations where Virgin Galactic is planning to build spaceports include the UK, Spain, and a location in the Asia Pacific region.

The company is also in “advanced talks” about building a spaceport in Sweden, the next location where it hopes to launch its flights after New Mexico, Whitehorn revealed.

Virgin Galactic will be the world’s first commercial space travel operator and tickets for the flights currently start from $200,000 each.

It has not set a deadline for the launch of the space flights, but plans to start commercial flights around a year after the unveiling of prototypes and test flights has been completed.

Participants will be given just three days of pre-flight preparation and training onsite and 12 to 18 months of test flights will take place before commercial services are launched.

Virgin founder Richard Branson will be the first passenger to be flown to space in the first commercial flight, along with the designer of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft SpaceShipTwo, Burt Rutan, who is designing the spaceship at his base in Mojave, California.

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