Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund plans to invest about $1 billion in Virgin Group’s space companies, giving the ventures a welcome jolt of capital as the kingdom seeks to reduce its dependence on oil.The country’s Public Investment Fund will invest in Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Co. and Virgin Orbit and holds an option to invest an additional $480 million in space services, according to a statement on Thursday. Saudi Arabia plans to support the ventures’ plans for human spaceflight and launching satellites into orbit and may cooperate with Virgin to create a “space-centric entertainment industry” in the country.
“We are delighted to welcome the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as our new partners,” Richard Branson, Virgin Group’s founder, said in the statement. “This investment will enable us to develop the next generation of satellite launches and accelerate our program for point-to-point supersonic space travel,” he said, adding that Virgin Galactic is “months away” from taking people into space. Saudi Arabia will acquire a “significant stake” in the ventures, alongside Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments, the fund said, without providing details. The investment is subject to regulatory approval.
The PIF has previously invested in ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc., Dubai-based business-tycoon Mohamed Alabbar’s e-commerce firm Noon and Saudi Telecom Co. The sovereign-wealth fund will borrow to boost returns from its investments as it seeks to diversify the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy, Managing Director Yasir Al-Rumayyan said in a Bloomberg TV interview.
“This partnership with Virgin Group reflects the great strides the kingdom is making towards our vision for a diversified, knowledge-based economy,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud said in the statement. “We will make active contributions to those sectors and technologies that are driving progress on a global scale.”