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article imageChairman of Virgin Galactic suspends partnership with Saudis

By Ken Hanly     Oct 14, 2018 in Business
Richard Branson founder and chairman of the space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic has temporarily suspended a partnership with Saudi Arabia until the issue of missing Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi is cleared up.
Khashoggi went missing after visiting the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul back on October 2.
Branson's statement
In a recent blog post Branson wrote: "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. I felt that I could give practical development advice and also help protect the precious environment around the coastline and islands."
Branson also said that in the light of what has reportedly happened in Turkey with respect to the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi many businesses' ability to do business with the Saudis would be changed if the reports turned out to be true. Branson has asked for more information from the Saudi authorities in relation to the Khashoggi disappearance.
Tension has increased between Branson and the Saudis
Due to the disappearance of Khashoggi an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime tensions between the Saudis and Brandon have been growing. Khashoggi has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate some time ago. Turkey claims he was killed and dismembered and that they have audio and video tapes to prove it, although they have not released the evidence. For their part, the Saudis deny the accusations and claim that Khashoggi left the embassy not long after entering but there are no security photos showing this.
Until the issue of Khashoggi is cleared up Branson said that any discussions over the Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit investment would be suspended.
Virgin Group moving forward with space flight plans
In the meantime, the Virgin companies are still moving forward with their spaceflight plans. Virgin Galactic has been testing its space plane, the VSS Unity since late 2016, and Branson claims the vehicle will be able to reach space on an upcoming flight test in the next few weeks. In addition, Virgin Orbit hopes in the near future to perform its first captive carry flights of its rocket, LauncherOne, during which the rocket will ride under the wing of its carrier plane for the first time but will not be released on the test flight. If the test is successful then on the next test, Virgin Orbit will test launching the rocket, sending it into space.
This will all be quite costly and the Saudi funding would help out considerably but it remains to be seen if the issue can be cleared up satisfactorily if the evidence the Turks claim to have is confirmed.
More about Jamal Khashoggi, Virgin galactic, Saudi arabia
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