NASA charters suborbital research flights aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

NASA charters suborbital research flights aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo will be used to carry experiments into space after the signing of an agreement with NASA
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo will be used to carry experiments into space after the signing of an agreement with NASA
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Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo will be used to carry experiments into space after the signing of an agreement with NASA
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo will be used to carry experiments into space after the signing of an agreement with NASA

Although Virgin Galactic is generally known as a space tourism company, it sees research experiments as a future mission segment and significant business opportunity. To this end, the company has signed a contract with NASA to provide up to three charter flights on its SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane. The deal follows the curtain closing on the Space Shuttle program earlier this year and is part of NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, which is charged with providing reduced-gravity environments for research experiments while encouraging the emerging commercial space industry.

The agreement requires NASA to charter a full suborbital flight from Virgin Galactic, with the option for two additional flights. If all options are exercised, the contract value is US$4.5 million. Each mission allows for up to 1,300 lbs (590 kg) of scientific experiments, which Virgin says could enable up to 600 experimental payloads per flight. The Flight Opportunities Program will select the payloads to be flown from a variety of proposals currently being solicited from the research community.

The Flight Opportunities Program has already arranged for the flight of a broad range of scientific payloads designed by NASA labs, universities, and private companies across the United States, but to date, none have yet made it into space. Virgin Galactic says it's SpaceShipTwo offers a significantly larger cabin than any other commercial company taking deposits for space flights today, allowing for a wider range of experiments to be carried out.

"We are excited to be working with NASA to provide the research community with this opportunity to carry out experiments in space," said George Whitesides, President and CEO of Virgin Galactic. "An enormous range of disciplines can benefit from access to space, but historically, such research opportunities have been rare and expensive. At Virgin Galactic, we are fully dedicated to revolutionizing access to space, both for tourist astronauts and, through programs like this, for researchers."

Virgin Galactic says it will provide a Flight Test Engineer on every flight to monitor and interact with the experiments as necessary and, if requested, the experiments can be quickly accessed after landing, which can be critical for many types of experiments.

Although Virgin Galactic didn't say when the NASA-chartered flight/s were due to launch, they are set to be the first experiments flown via the Flight Opportunities Program to cross the boundary into space.

If I can get a ride on a flight - will I be able to see some space junk on our way to nowhere and back?
Gaetano Marano
- can TOURISTS (or scientists) be sent aboard an X-15 (dropped by a B-52) to 62+ miles of altitude??? - clearly they CAN\'T since it\'s TOO DANGEROUS also for a test pilot!!! - well, despite the fashionable look of their internal, all the suborbital spacecrafts like the SS2 dropped by a WK2 are EXACTLY the SAME of the experimental and dangerous X-15 dropped by the B-52 - so, the FAA absolutely NEVER CAN APPROVE this kind of experimental and dangerous suborbital vehicles for COMMON TOURISTS ... unless ... the FAA (as does the Press) will close both eyes about the BIG risks of this new business ... - - the feathering mechanism is one of the MOST DANGEROUS part of the VERY dangerous SS2 and its main design flaw since it\'s a MECHANICAL (then, with an high risk of failure) device, but, on which, the two pilots and six passengers MUST rely to come back to Earth alive! - just imagine if it doesn\'t work on descend with the unbraked SS2 that BURNS in the atmosphere OR if the SS2 engine stops work at half the ascent and the SS2 that falls back with its tanks still full of propellants and the feathering mechanism not able to brake a too heavy SS2 that falls at high speed crashing and exploding on land OR with the movable ends of the wings, in feather mode, that will be detached at the reentry in the dense atmosphere due to the too high weight and speed of the SS2 - or imagine if, after a successful ascent and reentry, the feathering mechanism doesn\'t work turning back to the gliding mode OR if only half of the wings will turns to glide mode and the SS2 will go to stall, falling and spinning at high speed like a propeller until it crashes on land! - and the same (and worse) thing could happen if only half of the feathering mechanism will work well, after the SS2 has reached 62 miles, with the vehicle that will spin at high speed until it will burn in the atmosphere! - - the SS2/WK2 will NOT have ANY of the (well known) safety systems for pilots and tourists aboard, NO parachutes, NO ejectable seats, NO backup feater system, NO launch abort system, NO vacuum-grade spacesuits, NOTHING - Virgin Galactic is trying to sell the idea that SS2 and WK2 flights will be safe and reliable since the program will be headed by a former top NASA manager, but, unfortunately, with or without the NASA managers, both SS2 and WK2 will fly with nearly ZERO safety systems!!! - in other words, also assuming that, a NASA manager, may really trasform the (totally unsafe and VERY dangerous, by design) SS2 and WK2, to something (at least) as safe as a Space Shuttle (an hope that is pure sci-fi) we should see at least two SS2 accidents in the first 135 flights, with FOUR pilots and TWELVE millionaires DEAD -
re; Gaetano Marano
Comparing the safety of a fifty year old research aerospace craft designed to explore the characteristics of high speed near space flight, with a aerospace liner is ludicrous.
Please define what you mean \"TOO DANGEROUS\" and why you get to make the decision for others. The X-15 program did not end because of the danger.
The SS2 engine is a masterpiece of simplicity and is thus very reliable. The feathering system does not look to be any more complicated than ailerons. The use of passive stabilization on reentry eliminates dozens of failure points inherent in an active stabilization system.
All your \"safety systems\" would increase vehicle weight increasing by an order of magnitude the likelihood of of an accident during reentry when an accident is most likely.
The Space Shuttle is the most complicated machine ever built, and of its two catastrophic failures one was because it was launched in weather outside its flight envelope, and the other was because of bad design.
Why do your arguments make me think you work for a different and larger aerospace firm, that has not been able to get its suborbital vehicle to fly?
Will Sharp
Gaetano Marano,
Dude, the Space Shuttle didn\'t have any of those \"safety features\" either. If a single thing failed on takeoff or landing, there was pretty much nothing that could be done. Same with pretty much any spacecraft out there.