Virgin Galactic, NASA to work jointly on private tourism, space station visits

For NASA, private partnerships with companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are helping revive its own human missions.


Billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc said on Monday it has signed up with NASA to develop a program to promote private missions to the International Space Station (ISS), sending the shares of the company up about 16%.

As part of its agreement with the Johnson Space Center, the space tourism company will identify candidates interested in buying tickets for private rides to space in orbital-grade vehicles from other companies, and develop training packages under its “astronaut readiness program.”

The company competes with billionaire-backed ventures such as Amazon.com Inc’s Blue Origin that are vying to usher in a new era of space tourism, racing to be the first to offer sub-orbital flights to civilian space travelers.

 Virgin Galactic, NASA to work jointly on private tourism, space station visits

Virgin Galactic's next passenger spaceship stands on its landing gear in a weight-on-wheels test in the company's Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Image: Thomas Storesund/Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic offers zero-gravity experiences to customers with its centerpiece SpaceShipTwo plane and has long-term point-to-point travel plans to quickly transport passengers from city to city at near-space altitudes.

This is the second agreement between Virgin Galactic and the U.S. space agency. In May, the two entered an agreement to develop ‘high-Mach’ aircraft for potential civilian use.

For NASA, the private partnerships are helping it revive its own human space missions. Last month, Elon Musk’s SpaceX ended NASA’s nine-year hiatus by delivering two astronauts to the ISS.

The space agency is leaning heavily on private companies built around shared visions for space exploration, as it gears up for a long-term presence on the moon and prepares for a manned mission to Mars.

Shares of Virgin Galactic closed at $17.39.


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