Google planning to take a stake in Virgin Galactic?

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Google could be close to making a deal that will give it a share in Sir Richard Branson's $2 billion (1.2billion) space tourism venture Virgin Galactic.

According to a report by Sky News, discussions are under way with Virgin Galactic as part of Google's project to put satellites into orbit to give billions of people internet access.

The report said that negotiations were in an "advanced stage" and had been ongoing for months. The deal would see Google get a 1.5 per cent stake in Virgin Galactic for around $30 million (17.8m). This would value Virgin Galactic at 1.2 billion.

Google is set to pump millions of dollars into a joint venture that would tie in with Google's project to launch a fleet of low-orbit satellites to bring internet access to parts of the world without any connectivity.

Such low-orbit satellites could be quicker and cheaper to launch instead of installing wired networks.

Virgin Galactic has developed a space craft called LauncherOne, designed to carry small payload satellites into orbit. Launches using the craft are due to begin in 2016.

On Tuesday, Google announced it was buying Skybox Imaging for $500 million (298 million). The start-up focuses on photos taken by satellites. The firm has developed small, cheap satellites designed to photograph the earth. Such satellites could easily be re-designed to enable internet access.

In April, Google bought Titan Aerospace, a drone airplane manufacturer that uses solar power to allow them to fly uninterrupted for years, beaming wireless signals back down to the ground.

Branson intends to have the first flights of the tourist spaceship run out of New Mexico. Among the passengers who have already paid for a flight are Stephen Hawking, Ashton Kutcher, Katy Perry, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as well as Sir Richard himself. Tickets cost $200,000.

IT Pro contacted Google for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.