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Google and Virgin Galactic Keep Mum on Space Talks

Neither Google nor Virgin Galactic are commenting on a report that the two companies are talking about a deal relating to satellite-launch technology.
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Neither Google nor Virgin Galactic are commenting on a widely circulated report from Britain's Sky News that the two companies are talking about a deal relating to satellite-launch technology.

Sky News quoted unnamed insiders as saying that Google is thinking about putting hundreds of millions of dollars into a joint venture that would take advantage of Virgin Galactic's rocket technology, and perhaps eventually investing roughly $30 million for a small stake in the Virgin Galactic holding company.

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When asked about the report, Google told NBC News in an email that "we don't comment on rumor and speculation."

Virgin Galactic kept mum as well. "We're aware of the news stories about Google," Kary Laskin, who handles public relations for Virgin Galactic at Edelman PR, said in an email. "It's our policy not to discuss speculation, so we have no comment or details to share."

Both Google and Virgin Galactic have such high profiles that it'd be natural to assume they're talking with any number of other companies about prospective deals.

Google has made some high-profile moves in the aerospace industry lately, including its $500 million acquisition of Skybox Imaging, a satellite manufacturer; its purchase of Titan Aerospace, which makes solar-powered drones; and a reported plan to set up a multibillion-dollar satellite venture that may be called WorldVu or L5. The company is also an investor in O3B Networks, which aims to extend broadband Internet services to underserved regions of the world via satellite.

It's thought that such moves, supplemented by in-house efforts such as Project Loon, are aimed at establishing the search-engine giant as a worldwide telecom provider.

Virgin Galactic has its own aspirations in the satellite industry. In addition to its plans to send passengers to the edge of outer space in the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, the company is developing a satellite-launching system known as LauncherOne, powered by a new type of rocket engine called the Newton. Skybox Imaging, which Google is acquiring, had already signed on as a LauncherOne customer.

Virgin Galactic was founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Branson's Virgin Group owns nearly two-thirds of the company. Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments has a 37.8 percent stake.

Branson has a longstanding and friendly relationship with Google's billionaire founders. In 2008, for example, they cooked up an April Fool's website for Project Virgle, a joint venture that was supposedly planning to establish a colony on Mars.

NBCUniversal has established a multi-platform partnership with Virgin Galactic to track the development of SpaceShipTwo and televise Richard Branson's spaceflight.