NASA buys flights on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo

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NASA itself may currently be grounded, but that doesn't mean it can't use a designated suborbital driver. The agency has signed a deal with Virgin Galactic to charter anywhere from one to three SpaceShipTwo flights for research missions. According to the press release, each chartered flight from the commercial spaceline can allow for "up to 1,300 pounds of scientific experiments," which itself the equivalent of up to 600 experimental payloads per flight. A Virgin Galactic flight test engineer will be on hand for each mission.

NASA has committed to at least one full flight with the option for two more. Virgin Galactic is poised to earn $4.5 million (payable through the agency's Flight Opportunities Program) if all three flights are chartered — a small but notable value compared to the $58 million that Virgin Galactic has collected from "455 future tourist astronauts." A date for the first flight has yet to be announced, but stay tuned — SpaceShipTwo's first-ever commercial flight isn't expected until next year at the earliest.

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