Virgin Galactic has signed a deal with NASA to facilitate commercial flights to the International Space Station.
In a June 22 press release, Virgin Galactic announced that it had signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Johnson Space Center to facilitate commercial crewed flights to the International Space Station. The company plans to create a “new private orbital astronaut readiness program” that will identify and train customers, acquire launch services, and provide on-orbit and ground support.
In addition to offering “private astronaut experiences”, the company will also offer its services for “government-enabled scientific missions.” The release however did not clarify if they will be limited to accepting US “government-enabled scientific missions,” or if the company will be able to accept requests from outside US borders.
In addition to offering commercial space station trips as an isolated service, Virgin Galactic suggests that it will offer its current SpaceShipTwo flights as a part of its astronaut training. The flights would allow would-be astronauts “to become familiar with the environment in space, such as G-forces and zero-G.”
Despite using SpaceShipTwo flights as part of its training program, Virgin Galactic does not have a vehicle capable of transporting astronauts to the space station itself. As a result, it will be required to acquire launch services from a third-party.
Although Russia continues to offer launch services to international customers aboard its Soyuz spacecraft, the NASA deal will likely require Virgin Galactic to utilize US launch providers. That leaves the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is expected to be approved for human spaceflight with the completion of the Demo-2 mission, and the Boeing Starliner, which could be delayed for several months more following an anomaly-filled maiden flight.
Following this morning’s announcement, Virgin Galactic stock jumped by more than $2 a share. The stock closed just under $15 dollars a share on Friday and opened this morning following the announcement at $17.70 a share. Although positive for the company, it is still well short of the $33.87 a share high the company managed in February prior to a market crash that was prompted by the emergence of a global pandemic.