The plan to take travellers to the stars by Virgin Galactic just took a giant leap forward. That’s because Richard Branson’s space tourism venture has entered into a partnership with NASA to organise private trips to the International Space Station.
The company announced that it had entered into a Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which would allow it to train private astronauts for short stays on the 21-year-old space station, reports Reuters. These trips would not be operated by Virgin Galactic; instead the company would be acting almost like a travel agent, identifying commercial clients and coordinating their trips to space.
As part of the agreement, Virgin Galactic will develop a “new private orbital astronaut readiness programme,” the company said in a statement. This will involve identifying entities that want to take trips to space, training them for their time in low orbit and booking their travel to the ISS, as well as arranging any and all resources they may need in space and on the ground.
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We’re announcing a Space Act Agreement with @nasa for Private Orbital Spaceflight to the @iss. Under this agreement, we will develop a new private orbital astronaut readiness program. Our 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 utilized for some elements of the training program, using the facilities designed for private astronaut training. This will include identifying candidates interested in purchasing private astronaut missions to the ISS, the procurement of transportation to the ISS, on-orbit resources, and ground resources. Building on our commercial spaceflight training experience, we can provide an unparalleled, personalized customer experience for orbital space travel. Private astronaut experiences could range from private citizen expeditions to government-enabled scientific research missions. There is greater demand for use of the ISS for scientific and technological research and development, commercial activity, and international collaboration.
“We are excited to partner with NASA on this private orbital spaceflight program, which will not only allow us to use our spaceflight platform, but also offer our space training infrastructure to NASA and other agencies,” said CEO George Whitesides. “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.”
In order to get clients to the ISS, Virgin Galactic will most likely have to partner with either SpaceX or Boeing, because its own space plane, the SpaceShipTwo, is only capable of suborbital flight. Until now, the company’s focus has been taking clients to the very edge of space, reports the Verge. Though its own craft will not be able to take passengers to the space station, it will most likely play a vital role in the training process.
Regardless of what comes of the new partnership, Virgin Galactic has already seen a boost from the news. CNBC reports that the company’s stock price rose by as much as 14 percent in early trading on this Monday morning.