Virgin Galactic inks deal with NASA to carry space enthusiasts and private astronauts to ISS

The deal opens up opportunities for the British-based company to identify interested passengers and train them. They will also transport passengers aboard a private spacecraft


                            Virgin Galactic inks deal with NASA to carry space enthusiasts and private astronauts to ISS
(Getty Images)

Space travel company Virgin Galactic has inked a deal with NASA to take private astronauts and other enthusiasts to the International Space Station (ISS). This move signals the entry of more private players into the space arena. The deal opens up opportunities for Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson, to identify interested passengers and train them. They will also transport passengers aboard a private spacecraft -- Space X or Boeing, for instance. Following the announcement, Virgin Galactic's shares increased by 15.9%.

“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," George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement. The deal comes right after Space X successfully carried two of NASA's astronauts into the ISS -- becoming the first private company to do so. Boeing, which is also hoping to send crewed missions to the space station, is unlikely to do so until 2021. However, preparations are on full-swing, according to reports.

Another space tourism company, Space Adventures, has already carried wealthy passengers to the ISS aboard the Russian Soyuz rocket. Virgin Galactic, on the other hand,  is trying to establish a broader base of customers. “This is not just for potentially private space travelers, but could also be for researchers or even government researchers,” Whitesides told The Verge, adding that program is open for people across the globe.

NASA is set to open up ISS for private astronauts and passengers. (Getty Images)

So far, Virginia galactic has focused on flights to suborbital space. It has developed its spaceplane named VSS Unity for this purpose. Fliers won't make a stop at the orbit but will reach the edge of space. At that height, they will be able to view the curvature of the Earth and experience weightlessness. Earlier this year, the company opened up tickets for the flight. Earlier this year, the company said it was selling tickets for people interested in suborbital flights. According to reports, more than 600 people have reserved their seats. The company will use its spaceplanes to train future explores before they venture into space. "We want to put the right package around it, so it’s not just ‘Go to a class and listen to a PowerPoint for three hours. How do you make that an engaging and enjoyable experience that you’re going to want to be able to do?” Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic’s president who worked as the launch integration manager for the Space Shuttle Program, told The Verge.

NASA is also interested in flying its astronauts on suborbital flights. "NASA is developing the process to fly astronauts on commercial suborbital spacecraft. Whether it’s suborbital, orbital, or deep space, NASA will utilize our nation’s innovative commercial capabilities," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted. Two other sub-orbital flights from Virgin galactic are in the works. Commenting on the changing landscape of space travel, Whitesides said: “The exciting thing here is that this is sort of another step towards opening up low Earth orbit to a diverse renaissance of activity, and we’re happy to be a part of it."

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