Virgin Galactic has confirmed a deal with NASA that will see it operate up to three charter flights on its privately-built spacecraft. The flights will enable engineers and scientific researchers to conduct experiments in space. The agreement, which includes options for two additional charter flights, is valued at US$4.5 million.
This arrangement is aimed at increasing researchers’ access to space. NASA’s charter for these flights comes through the space agency’s Flight Opportunities Program, which arranges the flight of a range of scientific payloads designed by NASA labs, universities and private companies. To date however, none of the experiments flown via the programme have crossed the boundary into space.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is the only crewed sub-orbital vehicle in flight test today, and the only such vehicle based on a commercial spacecraft that has already sent humans into space.
“We are excited to be working with NASA to provide the research community with this opportunity to carry out experiments in space,” said George Whitesides, President & CEO of Virgin Galactic. “An enormous range of disciplines can benefit from access to space, but historically, such research opportunities have been rare and expensive. At Virgin Galactic, we are fully dedicated to revolutionising access to space, both for tourist astronauts and, through programs like this, for researchers.”
Virgin Galactic said that while it has already collected more than US$58 million in deposits from 455 future space tourists, flying researchers and scientists into space marks a “significant business opportunity”.