Going Galactic: Google in deal talks with Virgin's spaceflight company

associate business editor

Google could soon be going Galactic if it joins forces with Sir Richard Branson's space division.

The American internet giant is discussing a deal which could give it an equity stake in Sir Richard's Virgin Galactic and form a joint venture which could provide it with access to satellite launch technology.

Such a move would further the company's ambitions to put a network of satellites into low Earth orbit with a view to extending internet access to billions more people – who could then be expected to log on to its core search engine.

The addition of so many potential customers could give Google's advertising revenues a massive boost.

Many people who lack internet access are not wealthy, but rapid economic development in places such as Africa promises to change that.

As well as creating a joint venture, Google could also take a small stake in Virgin Galactic's holding company, which aims to create the first space tourism business but is also looking to provide a launch for satellites and science missions.

In addition to Sir Richard several celebrities are said to be among more than 500 people to have shelled out $200,000 (£119,000) to get their names on the waiting lists for a flight on one of the company's sub‑orbital spacecraft. Flights would include a short spell of weightlessness.

However, a firm date has yet to be set and the company faces competition from rival operations, notably Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur who recently trucked his craft to Congress and invited American lawmakers to try it on for size.

While Google's equity stake would reportedly only amount to just under £20m its involvement would crucially offer a jolt of credibility to Sir Richard's enterprise, which is operating in a field that has so far been longer on hype and publicity than it has been on actual achievement.

Virgin already has one partner in the form of Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments, which paid $280m (£166m) for around a third of the company, valuing it at $900m. It recently launched a competition to put the first citizen of the United Arab Emirates into space when flights begin.

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