Google could buy a $30m stake in Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic

The search giant needs a way to get its satellites into space if it's going to bring internet to the masses.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 19 Feb 2016

Google, along with rival online megatron Facebook, is hungry for new markets. The problem? More than 70% of the world’s population doesn’t have internet.

To try to break down those pretty substantial barriers to growth, Google has been looking to infinity and beyond, buying high altitude drone company Titan Aerospace in April and Skybox Imaging, which makes cheap satellites that take high quality photo and videos, for $500m (£295m) just yesterday.

But those satellites aren’t launching all by themselves. Enter Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Google and Virgin Galactic are in advanced talks over a deal that would see the search giant take a $30m stake in Branson’s company and invest hundreds of millions in a joint venture, according to Sky News.

The 1.5% stake could value Virgin Galactic at as much as £1.2bn. That would mean the company has more than doubled in value since 2009, when Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments bought a 32% stake for around £166m, despite achieving no more than getting Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks and Stephen Hawking to fork out as much as $250,000 to reserve tickets into space.

Branson told MT just last month, ‘We’ll have satellites in space in 18 months. That will mean the three billion people around the world without mobile phone or internet access will be able to get it for a tiny price.’

Sounds like the billionaire entrepreneur and Google have a lot in common then. Branson and the search giant’s founder Larry Page are already fast friends, collaborating on Project Virgle, a 2008 April Fool’s joke claiming the two companies were going to establish a colony on Mars by 2014.

If the deal goes ahead, it will be a poke in the eye for fellow space pioneer and eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, who told MT last week, ‘I like Richard... But technology is not really his whack you know.’

It could also mean Virgin Galactic actually gets off the ground. Branson hasn’t been known for his solid grasp of reality: along with pipe dreams of building hotels on the moon, he said back in 2008 his first space flights would be within 18 months. Although there have been sub-space test flights, we’re still waiting for final lift-off…

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