Richard Branson, founder and chairman of space tourism venture Virgin Galactic, says he is temporarily suspending his partnership with Saudi Arabia, which means the company may lose its promised $1 billion investment. The decision is directly related to questions surrounding Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, who went missing after stepping inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey on October 2nd. Last year, the Virgin Group announced that Virgin Galactic and its spinoff companies, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit, would receive an investment of $1 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The money was meant to help further the development and testing of Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane, which is meant to take tourists into space for brief periods of weightlessness, as well as Virgin Orbit’s rocket, designed to deploy from the wing of a carrier airplane. There was even talk of using the money to help further Virgin’s dream of creating point-to-point travel — the concept of using rockets to quickly carry people to different places on the Earth. In exchange, Virgin might help with the creation of a “space-centric entertainment industry” in Saudi Arabia. “I had high hopes for the current government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it is why I was delighted to accept two directorships in the tourism projects around the Red Sea,” Branson wrote in a blog post on Thursday. However, tensions between the two partners have soured due to Khashoggi’s disappearance. Khashoggi, an outspoken Saudi… [Read full story]
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