Twelve scientific payloads from universities, research institutions and private companies will be taken into space aboard the SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle under development in the Antelope Valley.
The research projects are part of the $10 million Flight Opportunities Program that partners NASA with private space companies to encourage advances in space technology through low-cost sub-orbital flights 62 miles above earth.
SpaceShipTwo, is owned by Virgin Galactic LLC, the space tourism business of British billionaire Richard Branson, and operates from the Mojave Air & Space Port.
Research flights could begin later this year, with the space vehicle taking up paying passengers for sub-orbital flights perhaps next year. The craft completed a flight test from Mojave in January, but commercial flights would take off from Las Cruces, New Mexico.
“Our team is working hard to increase access to the space frontier so that many more payloads and people have a chance to experience spaceflight directly,” said Virgin Galactic Chief Executive George Whitesides, in a prepared statement released by NASA and the company on Tuesday.
Among the experiments to be taken aboard SpaceShipTwo are an electromagnetic field measurements payload from John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory; a micro satellite attitude-control system from the State University of New York, Buffalo; and an experiment by Made In Space Inc., a Moffett Field company developing 3-D printers for use in space.
Additional sub-orbital space vehicles are being developed by Spaceship Co. at the Mojave Air & Space Port.