Virgin Galactic has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to encourage commercial participation in spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS).

The agreement, with NASA’s Johnson Space Center will enable the development of a robust economy in Low Earth Orbit. The deal includes the development of a new private orbital astronaut readiness programme by Virgin Galactic.

This programme will include identifying candidates interested in purchasing private astronaut missions to the ISS, procurement of transportation to the ISS, on-orbit resources, and ground resources. Supporting and coordinating the use of ISS resources will be an important point of integration required for each private astronaut mission.

A statement by Virgin Galactic said: “The next generation of space traveller is interested in a variety of space experiences. Building on its commercial spaceflight training experience, Virgin Galactic believes it can provide an unparalleled, personalised customer experience for orbital space travel.”

Greater demand for use of ISS for scientific and technological research

NASA is also seeing a greater demand for use of the ISS for scientific and technological research and development, commercial activity, and international collaboration. Private astronaut experiences could range from private citizen expeditions to government-enabled scientific research missions.

As part of the partnership, NASA will leverage Virgin Galactic’s commercial expertise and industry knowledge. Virgin Galactic will contribute end-to-end programme management and integrated astronaut training packages for private passengers, tailored to meet the needs for a commercial orbital space flight experience. The partnership also serves as a pathfinder for the ISS National Laboratory by demonstrating additional involvement by the commercial sector in human spaceflight, and may lead to commercial participants conducting research and other commercial activities aboard the ISS.

“Unsurpassed levels of spaceflight customer commitments”

Virgin Galactic has already developed a customized Future Astronaut Readiness programme for its customers flying out of Spaceport America in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic’s existing space experiences could play an important role in the training for orbital travel, allowing passengers to become familiar with the environment in space, such as G-forces and zero-G. Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic’s home base, will be utilised for some elements of the training programme, using the facilities designed for private astronaut training.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic said: “We are excited to partner with NASA on this private orbital spaceflight programme, which will not only allow us to use our spaceflight platform, but also offer our space training infrastructure to NASA and other agencies. Based on the unsurpassed levels of spaceflight customer commitments we have secured to date, we are proud to share that insight in helping to grow another market for the new space economy. We want to bring the planetary perspective to many thousands of people.”
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