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Middle East Money Could Fuel Next Wave of Space Innovation

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

February 20, 2013

Middle East Money Could Fuel Next Wave of Space Innovation

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

There's no shortage of big space projects looking for cash. One potential source for funding resides in the sovereign wealth funds of Middle Eastern countries, the cumulative profits from decades of oil sales.

Countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar already gift money for goodwill causes in the United States to help the less fortunate and influence perceptions, reports The Washington Post. Donation have gone towards rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, New York and New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and to build a neonatal intensive unit in tornado ravished Joplin, Mo.

Space projects would provide a high-profile boost to a country's image and are also seen as a means to promote high-tech jobs and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education at all levels. Sovereign funds may not necessarily be as concerned with a quick return on investment, instead seeking longer term growth potential to benefit the country's economy and its people.

If you think this is all speculation, you'd be wrong. Virgin Galactic already has a chunk of Middle East money. Aabar Investments, backed by the government of Abu Dhabi, owns 32 percent of Virgin Galactic. As a part of the 2009 investment, Virgin agreed to build a spaceport in Abu Dhabi with exclusive regional rights for sub-orbital tourist and science research flights.

Would-be investors have a large portfolio of space projects to choose from, ranging from unmanned satellite projects to the first commercial landing on the Moon.  

Want- to-be asteroid miner Deep Space Industries needs $20 million for its first "Firefly" near earth object (NEO) recon mission, a trio of cubesats to examine nearby rocks. The non-profit B612 Foundation is working to raise $400 million to build and launch Sentinel, an infrared space telescope to find, map and track asteroids with the potential to threaten humanity.

Commercial manned space ventures present a number of opportunities to put a nation's astronauts into orbit and beyond. Bigelow Aerospace is offering up to 60 days in orbit aboard its planned Alpha Station for the low-low price of $26.25 million per person – a steal compared to the estimated $60 million plus British singer Sarah Brightman reportedly will pay for a 10 day visit to the International Space Station.

If low Earth orbit (LEO) is too boring, there's always the moon. Space Adventures has been trying for a while to sell a second $300 million seat for a 10 day trip to circle the Moon. More attractive for the history books (and much more expensive) would be a Golden Spike trip to land on the surface of the moon. Golden Spike has priced out $750 million per seat for a multi-day excursion on the lunar surface.

Edited by Jamie Epstein

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