With the demise of its Space Shuttle program, NASA is turning to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, as well as other private companies, to send engineers, scientists, and equipment to space.
The US space agency has signed two-year contracts worth a combined $10 million with Virgin Galactic, XCOR, and five other companies. The partnerships are needed for NASA to execute a variety of experiments in low-gravity environments.
“The government’s ability to open the suborbital research frontier to a broad community of innovators will enable maturation of the new technologies and capabilities needed for NASA’s future missions in space,” said NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Already, Virgin Galactic has collected $55 million in deposits from 445 would-be space tourists. But the relatively small contract with NASA is said to be an “important milestone” for the space tourism company as it aims to be a low-cost carrier of space travelers. The collaboration also presents a significant business opportunity and could yield more government contracts in the future.
“The Flight Opportunities program is an efficient research program that leverages investment in private vehicles to drive new discoveries for researchers and real benefits for taxpayers,” said George Whitesides, President and CEO of Virgin Galactic. “NASA leadership, the Office of the Chief Technologist and Congress deserve credit for supporting this worthy program. We look forward to providing a high-quality, cost-effective research platform for researchers and scientists over the coming years.”