DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — One lucky citizen of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates could soon get the chance to be rocketed into space.
Government-backed Aabar Investments on Sunday announced a competition to award an Emirati a free spot aboard Virgin Galactic's spaceship when it begins ferrying paying tourists on suborbital trips promising a taste of weightlessness and a view of the Earth's curvature.
The UAE is a seven-state federation that includes Dubai and the federal capital Abu Dhabi. The OPEC member country has a nascent satellite program and is eager to develop its own space industry as part of a broader push to diversify its economy.
Contest details have yet to be worked out, but it appears the millions of expatriates who far outnumber the local Emirati population aren't eligible.
Aabar is a partial owner of Virgin Galactic along with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.
The company, one of several state-linked investment firms backed by Abu Dhabi, gave Virgin Galactic a major financial jolt in 2009 by agreeing to pay $280 million in exchange for just under a third of the space startup.
It raised its stake to nearly 38 percent in 2011 after pumping in additional funds that would go toward developing a satellite launch program.
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