02 October 2019

Virgin Galactic and Italian Air Force Announce World First Government Contract For Human Tended Research Flight

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Washington, DC, USA (2nd October 2019): Virgin Galactic has announced a new contract with the Italian Air Force for a research flight on the company’s SpaceShipTwo system during which Italian researchers will actively conduct experiments while they are in space.

The contract marks the first time a government department has funded a human-tended research flight on a commercial space vehicle. The mission, set to take place as early as 2020, will fly three Italian payload specialists and a rack of research payloads. The Italian Air Force payload specialists and Virgin Galactic’s payload team are working with the Italian National Research Centre (CNR) on the design of the experimental payloads.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system is designed to fly both humans and payloads to space for tourism and research purposes. The company offers an end-to-end solution for payload flights that includes the use of SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft VMS Eve, along with the hardware, processes, and facilities needed for a successful campaign. Virgin Galactic’s platform offers routine, reliable, responsive, and affordable access to the upper atmosphere and space that can accommodate a large volume and mass for research payloads. The company has already flown payloads to space through the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

Human-tended research onboard SpaceShipTwo allows a dynamic approach to space-based science with researchers able to engage actively with their experiments, responding to developments in real time, optimizing the effectiveness of the research. Experimentation with humans-in-the-loop may also improve reliability by removing the unneeded complexity of building automation in. Virgin Galactic will be able to provide these benefits to the research community at levels of repeatability, affordability and quality of microgravity which have been historically unavailable in human spaceflight.

During the spaceflight, following shutdown of the rocket motor, researchers will unclip from their seats and undertake the actions necessary to complete each experiment during several minutes of zero gravity. The company will provide training and preparation for the researchers so that they are fully equipped to carry out their job as mission specialists on this flight and provide onsite pre-flight support for each of the payload experiments.The payload will include medical instrumentation that will measure the biological effects of the transitional phase from gravity to micro gravity on the human body. Other testing equipment may be used to help develop a new understanding of the chemistry of green fuels.

Maurizio Greganti, Chargé d’affaires at the Embassy of Italy in DC, said: “The agreement between the Italian Air Force and Virgin Galactic is the result of the cooperation with the relevant Italian and US space institutions which has been ongoing for a very long time. For the first time an Italian Government institution is acquiring a private suborbital flight. We are delighted with this level of cooperation which is a further confirmation of the strength and potential of the relations between our two countries, which expand to cutting-edge space technology.”

Gen Stefano Cont, Italy’s Defence and Defence Cooperation Attachè said: “The Italian Air Force has, in its DNA, a strong commitment to technological innovation. The skills and contributions of the Air Force, when combined with those of other national institutions are helping to maintain Italian leadership in the aerospace domain. Our interest in this program ties directly to the Air Force main mission, which is at its core national airspace defence.”

Virgin Galactic’s CEO, George Whitesides said: “We’re delighted to work with the Italian Air Force to further space-based research and technology development through this historic mission. The experiments they plan to test on SpaceShipTwo will expand our understanding of space science, and the researchers’ active participation will demonstrate an important new avenue for space research.  We are proud that Virgin Galactic is able to provide frequent access to space for this important work.

GEORGE WHITESIDES

GEORGE WHITESIDES

SPACE ADVISORY BOARD CHAIR

George T. Whitesides is the Chair of the Space Advisory Board, where he is responsible for bringing together aerospace leaders to advise the Virgin Galactic senior management team on the journey towards regular commercial spaceflight, developing the next generation vehicles and exploring new opportunities. Previously, George served as the Chief Space Officer of Virgin Galactic, spearheading the development of future technologies, including high speed, point-to-point travel and orbital flight, after stepping down as CEO in 2020.

George joined Virgin Galactic in 2010 as Chief Executive Officer. During George’s 10 years with the Company, he built the company from 30 people to a workforce of over 900, successfully guiding Virgin Galactic through its human space flight R&D and flight test program, culminating in two space flights. These historic flights saw the first humans launched into space from US soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, as well as the first woman to fly on a commercial space vehicle. George led the transition of operations from Mojave, California to Spaceport America, New Mexico, and oversaw the company’s successful public listing making it a multi-billion dollar company and creating the world’s first publicly traded human spaceflight venture.

Prior to Virgin Galactic, George served as Chief of Staff for NASA. Upon departure from the American space agency, he received the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award the agency confers.

George’s volunteer service includes Caltech’s Space Innovation Council, Princeton University’s Advisory Council for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and the Antelope Valley Economic Development & Growth Enterprise. He is a fellow of the UK Royal Aeronautical Society and an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

He previously served as Vice Chair of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, chair of the Reusable Launch Vehicle Working Group for the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, a member of the Board of Directors of Virgin Galactic, a member of the Board of Trustees of Princeton University, co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Space Technologies, and the Board of Virgin Unite USA. George has testified on American space policy before the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives, and the President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy. An honors graduate of Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs, George later earned a master’s degree in geographic information systems and remote sensing from the University of Cambridge, and a Fulbright Scholarship to Tunisia. George is a licensed private pilot and certified parabolic flight coach.

He resides in California with his wife Loretta and two children.

CHRIS HADFIELD

CHRIS HADFIELD

SPACE ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER

Colonel Chris Hadfield is a heavily decorated astronaut, engineer, and test pilot who has commanded the International Space Station. Formerly NASA’s Director of Operations in Russia and veteran of three spaceflights, Hadfield’s many awards include the Order of Canada, the Meritorious Service Cross and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. Hadfield is a three-time NYT bestselling author, a renowned musician, an adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo, chair of the board of the Open Lunar Foundation, and host of several internationally acclaimed television series. In addition, Hadfield leads the space stream at the Creative Destruction Lab, one of the world’s top tech incubators.

DR SANDRA MAGNUS

DR SANDRA MAGNUS

SPACE ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER

Dr. Sandra H. “Sandy” Magnus is the Principal at AstroPlanetview, LLC. Most recently she served as the Deputy Director of Engineering in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for the Undersecretary of Research and Engineering. In that role she served as the “Chief Engineer” for the Department of Defense establishing engineering policy, propagating best practices and working to connect the engineering community across the department.

Dr. Magnus is the former Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Prior to leading AIAA, she was a member of the NASA Astronaut Corps for 16 years. During her time at NASA she flew in space on the STS-112 shuttle mission in 2002, and on the final shuttle flight, STS-135, in 2011. In addition, she flew to the International Space Station on STS-126 in November 2008, served as flight engineer and science officer on Expedition 18, and returned home on STS-119 after four and a half months on board.

Following her assignment on Station, she served at NASA Headquarters in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. Her last duty at NASA, after STS-135, was as the deputy chief of the Astronaut Office.

While at NASA, Dr. Magnus worked extensively with the international community, including the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), as well as with Brazil on facility-type payloads. She also spent time in Russia developing and integrating operational products and procedures for the International Space Station.

Before joining NASA, Dr. Magnus worked for McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company as a stealth engineer. While at McDonnell Douglas, she worked on internal R&D and on the Navy’s A-12 Attack Aircraft program.

Dr. Magnus has received numerous awards, including the NASA Space Flight Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and the 40 at 40 Award (given to former collegiate women athletes to recognize the impact of Title IX).

DAVID A. WHELAN

DAVID A. WHELAN

SPACE ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER

Dr. David A. Whelan is the SVP Chief-Scientist of Cubic Corporation. Dr. Whelan retired from Boeing in 2017, as the Vice President, Engineering (BDS) and Board of Directors for HRL Laboratories. Whelan served as Director of the Tactical Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and began his career at Northrop as designer of the B-2 Stealth Bomber. Whelan is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Physical Society and IEEE. He earned his Ph.D. Physics from UCLA; He holds over 75 US patents.