Google Inc’s (GOOG) entry into several disruptive technologies has been widely talked about, with its Google X facility revving up the pace of innovation. But recent developments have seen the search and ad giant aiming for something beyond the skies. Yesterday, Sky News was the first to report that Google is in advanced-stage talks to enter a strategic partnership with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to gain entry into the realm of space travel.
Under the terms of the rumored deal, inside sources say Google will form a joint venture and also take up a small stake in the spacecraft operator. In return, Google will gain vital access to Virgin Galactic’s satellite launch technologies in order to enhance its own space-related projects.
Sir Richard Branson has reportedly held extensive discussions with Google co-founder Larry Page to hash out a deal under which Google will invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a joint venture for commercial spaceflights, and buy a 1.5% stake in Virgin Galactic for around $30 million.
Sir Richard Branson has reportedly met with Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt
The deal is expected to value Virgin Galactic at just over $2 billion, more than doubling its worth from 2009, when Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments took a 32% stake in the company for $280 million. A tie-up with Google will help revitalize Virgin Galactic’s delayed commercial spaceflight program by bringing Google’s expertise into play. The program’s flagship spacecraft is the SpaceShipTwo, which is due to commence tourist flights into low orbit by early 2015.
Here is an image of SpaceShipTwo. Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments has a 32% stake in Virgin Galactic
The initiative and future launches will be based at a purpose-built commercial facility called Spaceport America in New Mexico. The $212 million facility became operational in 2011 and was built in collaboration with companies like Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
An aerial view of Spaceport America located in the state of New Mexico
A number of wealthy businessmen and celebrities have already signed up to become some of the first passengers aboard the SpaceShipTwo, including Aston Kutcher, Katy Perry, and even Richard Branson himself. The cost of a round trip to space is around $200,000.
Richard Branson, Katy Perry, and Ashton Kutcher will be some of the first passengers on SpaceShipTwo.
This is certainly not Google’s first move into air borne technologies. In April, the company acquired Titan Aerospace, the maker of unmanned solar-powered aircrafts, which hover several hundred meters above ground, enabling various applications such as mapping.
A solar-powered drone built by Titan Aerospace
Google will likely use the partnership to boost its latest acquisition, Skybox Imaging— a satellite imaging company for which the search giant paid $500 million.
Google has recently acquired Skybox Imaging in a deal worth $500 million
Google could also learn substantially from Virgin Galactic’s low-cost launch technologies, which will help it expand on its Project Loon initiative. Project Loon aims to send hot-air balloons into high altitude to provide broadband signals to remote regions in an attempt to make Internet access universal.
Google’s Project Loon aims at providing high-speed internet access to remote locations
Google’s interest in Virgin Galactic follows a similar announcement from Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which has just recently unveiled the Dragon V2, a reusable, manned space capsule that can carry up to seven people into space.
Elon Musk unveils the Dragon V2 personal spacecraft