Boeing is to invest $20m in Sir Richard Branson’s space-tourism venture Virgin Galactic, meaning it will have more money to take on rivals such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in the commercial space race.
Branson founded space venture Virgin Galactic in a bid to cash in on rising demand for space travel.
He is looking to take the firm public by the end of the year, listing on the US markets via a merger with an already-listed company.
Boeing would receive new shares of Virgin Galactic in return for the investment made by its venture capital arm Boeing HorizonX Ventures.
In February, Virgin took a step closer to its goal of suborbital flights for space tourists when its rocket plane flew to the edge of space with a test passenger for the first time.
The firm has so far poured $1bn in a bid to fly people into space.
Branson said: “This is the beginning of an important collaboration for the future of air and space travel, which are the natural next steps for our human spaceflight programme.”
“Virgin Galactic and Boeing share a vision of opening access to the world and space, to more people in safe and environmentally responsible ways.”
The space race
Branson’s space company is racing to become the first private company to take customers into space next year. Rivals include Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
Space X has thus far focused on cargo missions, but Musk has expressed a desire to take passengers into space.
Meanwhile, Blue Origin is building a rocket with a passenger capsule housing six seats and large windows to view the curvature of the Earth.
Boeing itself is part of the commercial space race, with its Starliner space capsule being one of the two vehicles in the US commercial crew program.
In addition to transporting astronauts for NASA to the International Space Station, the firm hopes to one day will take commercial passengers to space in a Starliner. The first Starliner launch, which won’t have a crew, should happen by the end of the year.
City A.M. understands Boeing sees the agreement with Virgin as complimentary to its own offering, because the two firms focus on different aspects of space travel.
Virgin Galactic is transporting passengers to the boundary of space, while Boeing’s Starliner will take passengers to the space station.
Cooperation is as common in the space business as competition.
Blue Origin, on the face of it, competes as a rocket company with United Launch Alliance. However, ULA is jointly owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Yet Blue Origin’s new BE-4 engine will power ULA’s new Vulcan rocket.
Virgin Galactic has gone furthest on the journey to fully-fledged space tourism, however.
It has already sold 600 tickets to take passengers into space, at $250,000 each, with buyers including pop star Justin Beiber and Leonardo DiCaprio.