Home Science Virgin Galactic signs NASA deal to train future 'commercial astronauts'

Virgin Galactic signs NASA deal to train future 'commercial astronauts'

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Virgin Galactic has signed a new deal with NASA that will see the Richard Branson owned firm prepare future commercial astronauts for flights to the ISS. 

Under the agreement, Virgin Galactic will develop a new private orbital astronaut training program and look out for potential space tourist candidates.

This is a new initiative for the sub-orbital space firm that is expected to start offering paying passengers trips to the very edge of space in the coming year.

The Space Act Agreement, signed with NASA, will see the company use its expertise in preparing ‘future astronauts’ and apply it to a wider commercial space operation.

Virgin Galactic will take on responsibility for finding companies and organisations interested in sending people up to the International Space Station.

The Space Act Agreement, signed with NASA, will see the company use its expertise in preparing'future astronauts' and apply it to a wider commercial space operation

The Space Act Agreement, signed with NASA, will see the company use its expertise in preparing ‘future astronauts’ and apply it to a wider commercial space operation

Virgin Galactic has signed a new deal with NASA that will see the Richard Branson owned firm train future commercial astronauts for flights to the ISS

Virgin Galactic has signed a new deal with NASA that will see the Richard Branson owned firm train future commercial astronauts for flights to the ISS

They will also be responsible for finding the right transportation to get them there – such as with SpaceX, Roscosmos, Boeing or other future firms.

It’s a wide ranging agreement that will also require Virgin Galactic to coordinate the necessary resources in space and on the ground to make the trips a success.

They will basically become a space tourism agency – similar to Space Adventures that puts trips together for wealthy customers who fly on Russian rockets to the ISS.

‘The next generation of space traveler is interested in a variety of space experiences,’ said Virgin Galactic in its statement on the agreement.

Building on its commercial spaceflight training experience, Virgin Galactic believes it can provide an ‘unparalleled, personalized customer experience’ for orbital travel.

NASA is seeing greater demand for use of the ISS for scientific and technological research and development, commercial activity, and international collaboration. 

Virgin Galactic will take on responsibility for finding companies and organisations interested in sending people up to the International Space Station

Virgin Galactic will take on responsibility for finding companies and organisations interested in sending people up to the International Space Station

Private astronaut experiences could range from private citizen expeditions to government-enabled scientific research missions.

As part of this partnership, NASA will leverage Virgin Galactic’s commercial expertise and industry knowledge. 

Virgin Galactic 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. 

‘The partnership also serves as a pathfinder for the ISS National Laboratory by demonstrating additional involvement by the commercial sector in human spaceflight’, the company said.

It’s hope this could also lead to commercial participants conducting research and other commercial activities aboard the ISS in future. 

Virgin Galactic has already developed a Future Astronaut Readiness program for its customers flying out of Spaceport America in New Mexico. 

The 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 used for some elements of the training program, using the facilities designed for private astronaut training.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic said it was an exciting development.

‘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,’ he said.

As part of this partnership, NASA will leverage Virgin Galactic's commercial expertise and industry knowledge to help the agency launch its private astronaut service

As part of this partnership, NASA will leverage Virgin Galactic’s commercial expertise and industry knowledge to help the agency launch its private astronaut service

The 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.

The 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.

‘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.’

While Virgin Galactic has yet to send a customer into space, it has worked extensively with its ‘future astronauts’, preparing them for launch.

The firm argues that this experience makes it qualified to run this kind of program for NASA, adding that many Virgin Galactic staff once worked for NASA on human spaceflight programs.   

NASA has to review any proposal put forward by Virgin Galactic before the company can begin to offer private astronaut missions to the space station.

‘Virgin Galactic’s plans to develop a new private orbital astronaut readiness program directly support NASA’s broad strategy to facilitate the commercialization of low-Earth orbit by U.S. entities,’ NASA said in a statement. 

They will basically become a space tourism agency - similar to Space Adventures that puts trips together for wealthy customers who fly on Russian rockets to the ISS

They will basically become a space tourism agency – similar to Space Adventures that puts trips together for wealthy customers who fly on Russian rockets to the ISS

This is the latest in a string of commercialisation moves by NASA, including contracting SpaceX to fly astronauts to the space station earlier this year.

Boeing is also developing its own crew capsule called the Starliner, but that has been delayed due to technical problems in test flight.

NASA is also working with commercial partners on its Artemis mission to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 and then to continue a sustainable presence on the lunar surface going forward. 

It currently costs about $60 million for a seat on the SpaceX Crew Dragon, $90 million for a Boeing Starliner seat and $80 million for a Soyuz ticket.

Virgin Galactic hasn’t said which of the three options it would consider for flight, or whether something new was int he works.

Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic president, said they would tailor their training program to whichever capsule the future astronauts opted to use.

The firm is already in talks with a number of potential customers – from commercial purposes to research but couldn’t say who or why.   

EXPLAINED: THE $100 BILLION INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION SITS 250 MILES ABOVE THE EARTH

The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000. 

Research conducted aboard the ISS often requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.

ISS studies have investigated human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.

The US space agency, Nasa, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, a level of funding that is endorsed by the Trump administration and Congress.

A U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees Nasa has begun looking at whether to extend the program beyond 2024.

Alternatively the money could be used to speed up planned human space initiatives to the moon and Mars.

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