Conducting Research on SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo
We at Virgin Galactic believe that providing researchers and their experiments affordable, routine, and safe access to space is a core part of our mission. The same novel and innovative features that make SpaceShipTwo the ideal vehicle to carry our private passengers into space also make it a versatile and attractive research platform that we know will allow scientists, engineers, educators, and others to collect data and study questions in a way they have never before been able to do. The large volume and weight capacity, high apogee, and high flight rate of the WK2 and SS2 allow VG to offer a unique capability for payload and technology development in the upper atmosphere, outer space and microgravity environments.
As we enter into licensed commercial operations, Virgin Galactic will offer two main types of research flights on board SpaceShipTwo:
1) One type of flight offers researchers—whether they be academic or corporate, scientists or engineers, teachers or students—the opportunity to board SpaceShipTwo and fly to space with their experiments, becoming astronauts themselves as they conduct their research.
2) Other flights will carry only payloads. On these dedicated payload flights, as much as 1300 pounds (600 kg) worth of payloads will be mounted to our payload rack system, which takes the place of the seats normally in place for our astronaut customers. This system accommodates leading standards for mounting space experiments such as CubeSats, Mid-Deck Lockers, and 19 inch equipment racks; in addition, special payload sizes will be accommodated on a case-by-case basis. A Virgin Galactic Flight Test Engineer will be available on these flights to monitor and interact with the payloads as required.
To learn more about the research environment and interface requirements for SpaceShipTwo, please download our Payload Users’ Guide Payload Users’ Guide.
Eventually, we expect that WhiteKnightTwo—the mothership used to carry SpaceShipTwo aloft on each mission—will also become available for researcher and payload flights. With its unique capabilities, including the ability to carry large payloads and to loiter at altitudes greater than 50,000 feet (15 km) for extended durations, WhiteKnightTwo also offers an attractive research platform. Additionally, WhiteKnightTwo may prove to be a useful stepping stone for researchers planning flights aboard SpaceShipTwo; with the cabins of the two vehicles being functionally identical, including the rack systems. More information about research flights aboard WhiteKnightTwo will be made available in the future; inquiries and requests are welcomed via email sent to email@example.com.
If interested in flying your researchers or payloads on board the revolutionary SpaceShipTwo platform, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Potential payload providers are also encouraged to visit the website of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program and their recent Announcement of Flight Opportunities Announcement of Flight Opportunities. Through this program, NASA has chartered as many as three full flights of SpaceShipTwo to provide opportunities for engineers, technologists, and scientific researchers to fly cutting-edge experiments in suborbital space. NASA will be responsible for selecting proposals from among those contributed through the Announcement of Flight Opportunities; winning proposals will have the cost of their flight covered by NASA. Other NASA or NSF programs may cover the cost of payload development or data analysis.