Virgin Galactic inks a deal with NASA to help train private astronauts
Virgin Galacticsaid Monday it's signed a deal with NASAto train astronauts and support spacemissions.
- Investors cheered the
news, sending shares higher by as much as 20%.
- Virgin is actively taking reservations for private flights as it races with SpaceX to send tourists to space.
Shares of Virgin Galactic surged Monday after the company announced a deal with NASA to train astronauts for missions to the International Space Station.
According to a press release, the agreement allows Virgin to develop a "new private orbital astronaut readiness program" to vet potential astronauts, train them, and, eventually, get them to the ISS.
"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, Virgin Galactic's CEO, said in a press release.
Virgin Galactic has yet to fly its first space tourist to the edge of space and back, or about 60 miles above Earth. However, Virgin Galactic said it will purchase private missions to orbit — ostensibly from SpaceX, which just launched two NASA astronauts into orbit about 250 miles above the planet — that "could range from private citizen expeditions to government-enabled scientific research missions."
Ahead of those spaceflights, Virgin Galactic's suborbital SpaceShipTwo system, which is priced at about $250,000 per flight, could help acclimate private astronauts prepare for an orbital mission. An up-and-down flight in SpaceShipTwo would acclimate them to launching aboard a rocket-powered vehicle, experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness, and going through high-speed descent and landing.
Virgin Galactic stock rose as much as 20% after Monday's announcement.
The company has already flown a total of five people on two rocket-powered test flights to the edge of space and back. Before the pandemic, the company was planning to fly its founder, Sir Richard Branson, this summer.
And after Branson, there's a line of 600 passengers who've each paid between $200,000 and $250,000 each to rocket above Earth, see the darkness of space and curvature of the planet, and experience a few minutes of weightlessness, among other aspects of a suborbital spaceflight.
So far, Virgin has met just a few of the FAA's 29 validation steps left before it can launch customers.
"The words 'many companies have tried' is music to my ears," Whitesides told Business Insider in a June interview. "People said you couldn't build a human spaceflight company. People said we couldn't go public."
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