Today, Sept. 27, marks the 15th anniversary of Richard Branson announcing the launch of Virgin Galactic Airways. It’s been a long, winding road between that day and today, filled with many broken promises, missed deadlines, fatal accidents and a pair of spaceflights.
This year actually marks a double anniversary: it’s been 20 years since Branson registered the company and began searching for a vehicle the company could use to fly tourists into suborbital space.
Below is a timeline of the important events over that period.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has appointed his nation’s first – and thus far, only – astronaut to head up a newly created national space agency.
Prince Sultan bin Salman, who flew into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1985, was appointed to the position. Salam, 62, is one of the king’s second son.
As a payload specialist aboard the flight, Salam helped to deploy the ARABSAT-1B satellite from the shuttle’s cargo bay for the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (ARABSAT). His flight marked the first time an Arab, a Muslim and a member of a royal family traveled to space.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to invest $1 billion with an option for $480 million more into the Virgin Group involves not only its three space companies — Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company — but also Virgin Hyperloop One. Vision 2030 is Saudi Arabia’s plan to modernize and diversify its economy away from oil. The kingdom plans to connect its cities and those in adjoining countries via a network of hyperloops.
Mojave is a quiet little town that people don’t visit so much as stop at just long enough for gas, food or a bathroom break. It seems like the only folks who stay overnight have business at the spaceport or are long-haul truckers who are not here for the town’s non-existent nightlife.
So, the arrival of Richard Branson’s private jet — the one with the Virgin Galactic eye on the tail — on Saturday afternoon was quite the surprise. Normally he’s here to watch a test flight of SpaceShipTwo, but there was no sign that one would take place over the long Easter weekend.
The following day, the jet was still parked outside Virgin’s FAITH facility, but it was surrounded by a dozen or more SUVs right there on the ramp. Something was going on over there, but it was hard to know what.
On Monday, we got an answer. The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was here to see his nation’s latest investment. Last fall, Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to invest $1 billion with an option for $480 million more in Branson’s three space companies — Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company.
Photographs of the visit (here and here) show that Saudi Arabia’s symbols now adorn Virgin’s vehicles. The kingdom’s official seal can be seen on SpaceShipTwo’s nose and a model of a hyperloop vehicle for Virgin Hyperloop One. The logo of Vision 2030 — Saudi Arabia’s ambitious effort to diversify its economy away from oil — can be seen on the side of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
There was also the following information from a Saudi news report:
And for the first time, Virgin Galactic unveiled new and unique aircraft fuel compartments, in addition to a presentation on spacecraft that will enter commercial services.
The officials reviewed the areas of existing investment partnership, ways of developing them especially in space services, opportunities for deepening cooperation in modern technologies through research, manufacturing, and training Saudi youths, and transforming the Kingdom from a consumer to a producer of technology.
I’m sure we’ll get more information from Virgin soon.
I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.
I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….
So, have at it! Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (OneWeb PR) – In a ceremony witnessed by H.E the Minister Eng. Abdulla Al-Sawaha and Sir Richard Branson, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and OneWeb have signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on the development of solutions in 2020 which should help to connect 237,000 homes throughout the country bringing much needed affordable, high-speed, low latency broadband access to those living in rural and remote areas.
This MOU comes within the efforts of MCIT to extend all the Kingdom’s areas of high-speed internet and to enhance the infrastructure of communications and data networks, in line with the National Transformation Plan aiming to reach high-speed Internet for the vast majority of rural and remote areas by 2020.
Video Caption: Richard Branson, Founder & President, Virgin Group will start his space operations in 4 months with the launching of small satellites. But he also presents the project for his Space Center in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s non-binding agreement to invest $1 billion in Richard Branson’s three space companies is part of a broader set of ventures that includes Branson’s Virgin Group investing in a new mega city on the Red Sea and suborbital space tourism flights from the Saudi capital.
“Branson has become the first international investor to commit to involvement in the Red Sea Project and nearby Al Ola/Madain Saleh, another prime site for the development of tourism, both domestic and international,” the Saudi government proudly announced on Oct. 1, more than three weeks before the space deal was unveiled.
The nonbinding memorandum of understanding involving $1 billion in investment from Saudi Arabia is Richard Branson’s latest success in obtaining financial support from governments for his Virgin Group’s space companies.
The table below shows funding invested directly into the group’s space ventures and indirectly for infrastructure.
VIRGIN GROUP SPACE COMPANIES — DIRECT & INDIRECT GOVERNMENT INVESTMENT
Custom built spaceport named Spaceport America constructed on 18,000 acres of land — Virgin Galactic signed 20 year lease to serve as anchor tenant
Government-owned sovereign wealth fund Aabar Investments obtained 31.6 percent share of Virgin Galactic — plans for a spaceport where SpaceShipTwo would fly in Dubai — future commitment of $100 million more when Virgin Galactic developed viable plan for small-satellite booster (LauncherOne)
Aabar Investments increased share of Virgin Galactic to 37.6 percent
Under non-binding MOU, government-run Public Investment Fund (PIC) would obtain undisclosed share of three Virgin Group space companies: Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company — Virgin Group to maintain majority ownership
PIC has an option to invest nearly a half-billion more in Virgin Group space services
KAZKOSMOS PR — In the period from Nov. 11 to 17, a Kazkosmos delegation headed by Chairman Talgat Musabayev is participating in the “Dubai Air Show 2011” being held in Dubai (United Arab Emirates). As part of “Dubai Air Show 2011”, the Kazkosmos delegation plans to meet with representatives of the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology of the United Arab Emirates to discuss cooperation in space activities. At the meeting, there is the planned signing of an agreement between the National Space Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology of the United Arab Emirates on cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.
From 17 to 20 November this year, the Kazkosmos delegation plans to visit Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) to sign an agreement between the National Space Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Scientific and Technical town named after King Abdul Aziz (KACST) of Saudi Arabia to establish cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. The agreement will be signed on Nov. 19.
An international Islamic organization is embarking on an ambitious “Mega” project aimed at allowing its member nations to catch up to the West in building and using satellites and communications technologies. The effort has the backing of cash flush Saudi Arabia, emerging power Turkey, the populous Asian states of Indonesia and Malaysia, and Kazakhstan, which has its own spaceport.
The Mega project was kicked off during a January meeting in Islamabad of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a 57-nation inter-governmental organization with members on four continents. At the gathering, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said cooperation would help the Islamic world reverse centuries of technological decline:
Saudi’s KACST signs two agreements with NASA Zawya.com
Saudi Arabia city of King Abdulaziz for Science and Technology (KACST) signed here on Saturday two agreements in the fields of Space Geodesy and Aeronautics in addition to a Memorandum of Intent (MoI) in the fields of space and aviation with US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The signing ceremony came following the opening session of the Saudi International Conference for Space and Aviation which was held here today and co-organized by KACST and NASA….
For his part, [NASA Administrator Charles] Bolden in his speech highlighted NASA strategy and developments since 1998, including US President Obama adoption of policies which focused on boosting NASA in the scientific field in cooperation with institutes around the world.
Bolden added that NASA has partnership with untraditional partners in space science and is keen on expanding its research to cover 40,000 agreements in various regions in around 140 countries.
Editor’s Note: Forty thousand agreements sounds like a lot. More than NASA’s legal team could probably keep track of. I’m guessing the total is probably closer to 4,000.Â Probably an extra zero added in by mistake.
Gulf News has a bit more about what the Saudi space effort, which involves work with NASA, Stanford University and space satellite expert Charles William Everitt. The story quotes Prince Dr. Turki Bin Saud, vice-president of KACST’s research institutes:
“Our joint experience with them will be applied to the satellites to be manufactured in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi team is currently working in the US to design and produce satellites,” he said.
Currently there are five agreements with the US, India and Russia which are approved by the Saudi Council of Ministers in addition to memorandums of understanding with the Ukraine and France, he said.
KACST celebrating silver jubilee of Prince Sultanâ€™s space trip Arab News.com
An elaborate program to mark the silver jubilee celebrations of the Kingdom’s participation in the international space program led by Prince Sultan bin Salman has been drawn up by the King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology (KACST) together with NASA. The two-day celebrations are to start on Saturday.
â€œThe celebrations will include a major space and aeronautics technology conference in which Saudi and NASA experts will make presentations and share their views,â€ said Dr. Mohammed Al-Suwaiyel, KACST president.
The National Review looked a bit more into Charles Bolden’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia. Based on NASA Public Affairs Officer John Yembrick’s reply, which he forwarded to me (see below), there’s nothing much there.
The Saudi Arabia visit is part of a larger three-nation tour involving aerospace conferences in each location. Bolden will spend next week in Prague at the 61st International Astronautical Conference. This is the largest space conference in the world, and it is attended by the heads of the all the world’s space agencies.