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Branson and sheikh go for final frontier

VIRGIN Galactic&rsquo;s space flight business is selling a $280m (&pound;170m) stake to Manchester City football club&rsquo;s Middle Eastern owner. <br /><br />Sir Richard Branson will sell 32 per cent of the company to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who last month made a &pound;1.5bn profit selling shares in Barclays.<br /><br />Branson aims to have commercial space flights running in two to three years and the venture has been valued at $900m (&pound;548m).<br /><br />The company has already collected $40m in ticket sales from 300 would-be space tourists, including physicist Stephen Hawkins and ex-racing driver Niki Lauda.<br /><br />As part of the deal, Mansour has been given exclusive rights to set up a space port in the Gulf and operate research and commercial tourist flights from the United Arab Emirates. <br /><br />He is investing in Virgin Galactic through his investment fund Aabar, and will also contribute $100m towards developing Virgin Galactic&rsquo;s satellite business. <br /><br />Meanwhile, Sprint Nextel yesterday said it would buy out Virgin Mobile US in a deal that values the business at $483m.<br /><br />Sprint, which already owns 13.1 per cent of Virgin Mobile, will pay a mix of shares and cash to buy the rest of the company from Richard Branson&rsquo;s Virgin Group, South Korea&rsquo;s SK Telecom and public shareholders.<br /><br />Amid the flurry of dealmaking, Branson said he was starting to see green shoots for the global economy, but was still unsure whether the turnaround would continue.<br /><br />&ldquo;There have been some hopeful signs in the last six weeks, but I think the jury is still out to see whether that&rsquo;s self-sustaining or not,&rdquo; he said.