NASA selects Virgin Galactic for suborbital flights

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Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, has been selected by NASA to fly scientists and other personnel into space, making the first time that NASA has contracted a commercial partner to provide flights into suborbital space.

The announcement came from NASA’s Flight Opportunities Programme, funded by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist and managed out of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Centre in Edwards, Ca. Through this programme, NASA has already arranged the flight of several innovative scientific payloads on low-altitude rockets. With selection of Virgin Galactic as a flight provider, NASA will soon be able to offer the research community access to space itself.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is the only crewed suborbital vehicle in flight test today, and the only such vehicle based on a spacecraft that has already sent humans into space, the X Prize-winning SpaceShipOne. Virgin Galactic offers a significantly larger cabin than any other company taking deposits today, allowing for unique technology demonstrations and research, NASA said.
“The Flight Opportunities programme is an efficient research programme that leverages investment in private vehicles to drive new discoveries for researchers and real benefits for taxpayers,” said George Whitesides, President and CEO of Virgin Galactic. “NASA leadership, the Office of the Chief Technologist and Congress deserve credit for supporting this worthy program. We look forward to providing a high-quality, cost-effective research platform for researchers and scientists over the coming years.”

With several flight providers selected, NASA will now be able to begin the process of offering these flight opportunities to the research community, which has already expressed very strong interest in such a novel environment. Proposals are being invited from the research community by NASA and are expected to span a wide variety of disciplines. NASA’s Flight Opportunities Programme will be responsible for selecting those which go forward for flight.

These research flights mark an important milestone for Virgin Galactic. Although generally referred to as a space tourism company-Virgin Galactic has already collected more than US$55 million in deposits from 445 future tourist astronauts-providing access to space to researchers and their experiments is viewed by Virgin Galactic as both a future mission segment and a significant business opportunity.