Saudi Arabia is poised to invest $1 billion in entrepreneur Richard Branson’s space-tourism and satellite-launching venture, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
The joint announcement had scarce details and described a nonbinding agreement, according to the publication, adding that the deal was announced at a three-day event organized by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to showcase Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vision for a tech-driven economy.
“I’m pleased to announce the intention of the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, pending approval by the US government, to invest approximately $1 billion into our US-based space companies, Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit,” said Branson in a statement on the Virgin Group website.
The billionaire owner of the Virgin Group added: “We are now just months away from Virgin Galactic sending people into space and Virgin Orbit placing satellites around the Earth. This investment will enable us to develop the next generation of human spaceflight, more economic satellite launches and accelerate our programme for trans-continental point-to-point space travel.”
Branson said that the investment also “includes the possibility to develop a space-centric entertainment industry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Prince Mohammed, heir to the Saudi throne, announced the listing of NEOM, a 26,500-square-kilometre zone that will extend into Jordan and Egypt, this week.
“Without a doubt, at the end of the day, NEOM will be floated in the markets. The first zone floated in the public markets. It’s as if you float the city of New York.” The 32-year-old spoke on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative conference, which has attracted nearly 4,000 delegates from around the world to Riyadh.
The new city — and this possible venture into space — are being seen as part of the crown prince’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan to foster new private businesses, improve education, overhaul the economy of Saudi Arabia and provide jobs for an overwhelmingly young population in the face of a global oil price decline since 2014.