The Virgin WhiteKnightTwo mothership, carrying SpaceShipTwo, is expected to go into commercial service next year. Christ Chavez / Bloomberg News
The Virgin WhiteKnightTwo mothership, carrying SpaceShipTwo, is expected to go into commercial service next year. Christ Chavez / Bloomberg News

Virgin Galactic and UAE’s Aabar Investments team up to put Emirati in space

ABU DHABI // One lucky Emirati will be given the chance to reach the stars aboard Sir Richard Branson’s first commercial space flight.

The winner of a competition will be given a seat on SpaceShipTwo when it begins regular trips into the cosmos in 2015.

Tickets, for those who have to pay for themselves, usually cost US$250,000 (Dh918,250).

The competition is being organised by Virgin Galactic and Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments, which owns a share of the space travel company.

“The specifics of the competition are being finalised but this is an ideal way for us all to give something back to the community of the UAE,” said George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic.

“Without the support of Aabar Investments this programme would not be where it is today.”

Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company (Ipic) is the parent company of Aabar Investments and will also be involved in the competition.

Aabar and Virgin also plan to build a spaceport in Abu Dhabi by 2016 and Mr Whitesides said that the UAE was the perfect location for the facility.

“Abu Dhabi has successfully delivered a number of projects that are world scale and often first of-their kind in their own right. The ambition and can-do attitude of Abu Dhabi – through strategic investment companies like Ipic and Aabar Investments – creates a natural synergy with our co-owners Virgin,” he said.

Before this space port is built, the inaugural space flight is due to launch from New Mexico on Christmas Day this year. Mr Branson and members of his family are expected to take the seats aboard this first mission.

Soon after this, the regular commercial flights are due to begin aboard SpaceShipTwo.

According to Mr Whitesides, 700 would-be astronauts from 58 different countries have already paid the full amount.

“As the world’s first spaceline gathers momentum, we’ll pursue initiatives that will allow anyone the chance to experience space. For example, we will see the first series of our reality television programme.” he said. Mark Burnett, the creator of the Survivor reality show, is signed on to direct Space Race, which will follow contestants as they compete to win a flight aboard SpaceShipTwo.

It is was not confirmed whether the Emirati astronaut competition would be a part of this show.

Mr Whitesides was in the UAE for the Global Aerospace Summit as well as a meeting with shareholders at Aabar.

Sir Richard Branson bought the rights to the designs of SpaceshipOne, the first privately funded craft to go into space, in 2004.

Aabar then paid $280 million for 31.8 per cent of Virgin Galactic’s holding company in 2009, and later raised its stake to 37.8 per cent.

When fully operational, the space journey is expected to give passengers five minutes of weightlessness and the opportunity to see Earth for 1,600 kilometres in all directions.

Among the passengers who are believed to have signed up for a ride on SpaceShipTwo are celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake.

Michael Ondaatje, Knopf 


Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5


The flights

Emirates and Etihad fly direct from the UAE to Geneva from Dh2,845 return, including taxes. The flight takes 6 hours. 

The package

Clinique La Prairie offers a variety of programmes. A six-night Master Detox costs from 14,900 Swiss francs (Dh57,655), including all food, accommodation and a set schedule of medical consultations and spa treatments.


July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone


Uefa Champions League quarter-final, second leg (first-leg score):

Manchester City (0) v Tottenham Hotspur (1), Wednesday, 11pm UAE

Match is on BeIN Sports


Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

Living in...

This article is part of a guide on where to live in the UAE. Our reporters will profile some of the country’s most desirable districts, provide an estimate of rental prices and introduce you to some of the residents who call each area home.

Get inspired

Here are a couple of Valentine’s Day food products that may or may not go the distance (but have got the internet talking anyway).

Sourdough sentiments: Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom has introduced a slow-baked sourdough loaf dusted with flour to spell out I (heart) you, at £2 (Dh9.5). While it’s not available in the UAE, there’s nothing to stop you taking the idea and creating your own message of love, stencilled on breakfast-inbed toast.  

Crisps playing cupid: Crisp company Tyrells has added a spicy addition to its range for Valentine’s Day. The brand describes the new honey and chilli flavour on Twitter as: “A tenderly bracing duo of the tantalising tingle of chilli with sweet and sticky honey. A helping hand to get your heart racing.” Again, not on sale here, but if you’re tempted you could certainly fashion your own flavour mix (spicy Cheetos and caramel popcorn, anyone?). 


Display: 6.7” flexible Amoled, 2412 x 1080, 394ppi, 120Hz, Corning Gorilla Glass 5

Processor: MediaTek Dimensity 7200 Pro, 4nm, octa-core

Memory: 8/12GB

Capacity: 128/256GB

Platform: Android 14, Nothing OS 2.5

Main camera: Dual 50MP main, f/1.88 + 50MP ultra-wide, f/2.2; OIS, EIS, auto-focus, ultra XDR, night mode

Main camera video: 4K @ 30fps, full-HD @ 60fps; slo-mo full-HD at 120fps

Front camera: 32MP wide, f/2.2

Battery: 5000mAh; 50% in 30 mins w/ 45w charger

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Google Pay)

Biometrics: Fingerprint, face unlock


Durability: IP54, limited protection from water/dust

Cards: Dual-nano SIM

Colours: Black, milk, white

In the box: Nothing Phone (2a), USB-C-to-USB-C cable, pre-applied screen protector, SIM tray ejector tool

Price (UAE): Dh1,199 (8GB/128GB) / Dh1,399 (12GB/256GB)

The End of Loneliness
Benedict Wells
Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins

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