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Virgin Galactic inks deal with NASA to help train private astronauts

The space tourists will be trained for missions to the International Space Station.

Private space exploration company Virgin Galactic has announced it scored a deal with NASA to train private astronauts for spaceflight.

The space companies signed a Space Act Agreement alongside NASA’s Johnson Space Center that will see Virgin Galactic develop a new “private orbital astronaut readiness program” that will pinpoint potential candidates keen to book exclusive missions to the ISS.

The new program will build on Virgin’s ‘Future Astronaut Readiness’ program, developed for its customers flying out of Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic will also assist with the sourcing of transportation to the ISS, on-orbit resources and ground resources.

“The next generation of space traveller is interested in a variety of space experiences. Building on its commercial spaceflight training experience, Virgin Galactic believes it can provide an unparalleled, personalised customer experience for orbital space travel,” Sir Richard Branson’s publicly-listed space company said.

Expedition 62 Flight Engineer Jessica Meir
Expedition 62 Flight Engineer Jessica Meir © NASA

The new arrangement will see NASA leverage Virgin Galactic’s commercial know-how and industry knowledge, while Virgin 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.

In a statement, Virgin Galactic said it’s 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 will be utilised for some elements of the training program, using the facilities designed for private astronaut training.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said: “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.”

No particular price tag has been put on the potential Virgin Galactic/NASA private suborbital spaceflights, however, earlier this year Axiom Space opened the doors for private astronauts to join a mission to the ISS, with a 10-plus-day mission priced at around US$55 million.

Japan's HTV 8 cargo craft is attached to The International Space Station
Japan's HTV 8 cargo craft is attached to The International Space Station © NASA

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Lead image: Virgin Galactic in Space © Virgin Galactic