Virgin Galactic and NASA eye private orbital spaceflights

New partnership to make the International Space Station available to the ultra-rich

Virgin Galactic
and NASA are partnering to encourage commercial participation in orbital human spaceflights to the International Space Station (ISS).

This week the space companies signed a Space Act Agreement alongside NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas that will see Virgin Galactic develop a new private orbital astronaut readiness program that will pinpoint potential candidates keen to book private astronaut missions to the ISS.

The new program will build on Virgin’s ‘Future Astronaut Readiness’ program, developed for its customers flying out of Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic will also assist with the sourcing of transportation to the ISS, on-orbit resources and ground resources.

International Space Station | credit: NASA

“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,” Sir Richard Branson’s publicly-listed space company said.

“NASA is seeing 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,” Virgin Galactic added.

The new arrangement will see NASA leverage Virgin Galactic’s commercial know-how and industry knowledge, while Virgin will also contribute end-to-end program management and integrated astronaut training packages for private passengers, tailored to meet the needs for a commercial orbital space flight experience.

Expedition 62 - Flight Engineer Jessica Meir on the International Space Station | credit: NASA

In a statement, Virgin Galactic said it’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 will be utilised for some elements of the training program, using the facilities designed for private astronaut training.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said: “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.”

No particular price tag has been put on the potential Virgin Galactic/NASA private suborbital spaceflights, however, earlier this year Axiom Space opened the doors for private astronauts to join a mission to the ISS, with a 10-plus-day mission priced at around US$55 million.

Lead image: View from space on Virgin Galactic spaceflight / Virgin Galactic

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