SpaceShipTwo to host NASA research missions

NASA has hired Virgin Galactic to fly up to three charter flights on its flagship SpaceShipTwo.

The flights will offer NASA scientists the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge experiments in sub-orbital space.

SpaceShipTwo is capable of carrying up 1300 lbs of scientific equipment, enabling approximately 600 experimental payloads per flight. 

As an added bonus for NASA, the civilian company will provide a Flight Test Engineer to monitor and interact with experiments.

Typically referred to as a space tourism company, Virgin Galactic has already collected more than $58 million in deposits from 455 future tourist astronauts. 

The corporation – founded by billionaire Richard Branson – is slated to make its first passenger flight sometime in 2012 from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

A carrier aircraft will fly SpaceShipTwo to 50,000 feet, where the spaceship will separate, blast off and reach an altitude of 60 miles above the Earth’s surface – allowing passengers to experience the full effects of weightlessness.