Italy earmarked for Virgin Galactic hub

Commercial spaceflights planned from Taranto-Grottaglie Airport

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Commercial spaceflights lifting from Europe are in the pipeline, after Virgin Galactic inked a framework agreement with Italian fellow space companies, Sitadel and ALTEC.

The arrangement follows two years of talks between the parties, government regulatory analysis, studies on potential operations and market assessment. Virgin Galactic confirmed it’s operational headquarters remains at Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport in New Mexico, USA

The deal with ALTEC (Aerospace Logistics Technology Engineering Company), a public-private company owned by the Italian Space Agency and Thales Alenia Space, comes after it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Virgin Galactic two years ago.

In mid 2017 the U.S. Department of State approved an agreement to develop a plan that would eventually see the construction of an Italian spaceport, which will provide the infrastructure for future Virgin Galactic suborbital flights. Earlier this year, after “in-depth analysis of potential locations,” the Italian aviation authority ENAC designated the Taranto-Grottaglie Airport as the future home of “horizontally-launched spaceflights” in Italy.

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo

Sitael, the largest privately-owned space company in Italy with headquarters in the Puglia region, is partnering with Altec and Virgin Galactic in order to define the framework that will lead the spaceflight operations from Grottaglie Spaceport.

The agreement envisions a dedicated space vehicle system, built by Virgin Galactic’s sister enterprise The Spaceship Company, being positioned at the future Grottaglie Spaceport.

The space vehicle would be utilised by customers like the Italian Space Agency as a science platform for high-frequency space research, as well as private individuals to experience space.

VSS Unity in flight

Virgin Founder Sir Richard Branson was on hand to witness the signing of the new alliance.

“From the Renaissance to modern space science, Italy has always been a natural home to great innovators and breakthrough ideas which have shaped the human experience. I believe Italy’s vision which has led to this collaboration with our Virgin space companies, will provide a real impetus as we strive to open space for the benefit of life on Earth,” Branson said.

This partnership could see Virgin Galactic launch the first person in history into space from Italian soil – and in fact from any European territory. Together, we will help to expand opportunities for science, industry and the millions of people who dream of experiencing space for themselves. Virgin Group Founder, Sir Richard Branson

The agreement comes after two years of business discussions, government regulatory analysis, studies on potential operations and market assessment and the signature was witnessed also by the founder of Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Angel Group Mr. Vito Pertosa, the President of the Italian Space Agency Mr. Roberto Battiston, the Italian Minister Ms. Barbara Lezzi, the President of Apulia Region Mr. Michele Emiliano, the President of the Aeroporti di Puglia Mr. Tiziano Onesti and the Commercial Officer of the U.S. Embassy in Rome Todd Avery.

Lead image – the agreement was inked between Nicola Zaccheo, Sitael CEO, Vincenzo Giorgio, Altec CEO, and George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO, at Sitael’s headquarters. It was witnessed by Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Angel Group Vito Pertosa, the President of the Italian Space Agency Roberto Battiston, the Italian Minister Barbara Lezzi, the President of Apulia Region Michele Emiliano, the President of the Aeroporti di Puglia Tiziano Onesti and the Commercial Officer of the U.S. Embassy in Rome Todd Avery.

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