Virgin Galactic LLC, the world's first commercial spaceline, announced today that it has selected NanoRacks LLC to construct a rack system to allow research payloads to fly to space aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (SS2). With these new racks, SS2 will allow researchers to conduct experiments during several minutes of microgravity using a mounting system also employed on the International Space Station (ISS).
By providing routine access for research payloads to suborbital space, Virgin Galactic will expand current research capabilities beyond existing reduced gravity platforms such as drop towers and parabolic flights. SS2's large capacity allows as much as 1,300 pounds (600 kg) of payloads per flight. Additionally, some flights may also include researchers themselves, able to interact with their experiments in real time.
"Virgin Galactic's mission is to revolutionize access to space and NanoRacks' experience placing research payloads on other spacecraft will help us ensure that our vehicle has a simple and effective platform for researchers. The safety, flexibility, capacity and modularity of our new racks will make it easier for researchers to conduct cutting-edge experiments aboard our space vehicles," said George Whitesides, CEO and President of Virgin Galactic. "Reusable suborbital space vehicles will offer a new platform for scientific researchers and technologists. Making this announcement at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is ideal, as this conference is a powerful demonstration of the research community's interest in vehicles like SpaceShipTwo."
The racks flown on SS2 will allow mounting of any combination of non-standard and standard payloads. Standard payloads are based on configurations already in use on platforms like ISS, including middeck lockers and cargo transfer bags, as well as other common standards such as server racks. Standard racks will support up to 108 cubic feet of usable payload volume. Additionally, experiments can be positioned within the rack system for a view through Virgin Galactic's large, 17-inch-diameter-windows should acquisition of spectral data or imaging be desired.
"We are delighted to join Virgin Galactic in providing world-class research capabilities in the suborbital environment," said Jeffrey Manber, Managing Director of NanoRacks. "For the first time, we will have a seamless standard from suborbital research to utilization within the U.S. National Lab on the International Space Station. For researchers to have repeatable access to bouts of microgravity is an essential first step to extending their research program."
About Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic, owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS, is on track to be the world's first commercial spaceline. The new spaceship (SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise) and carrier craft (WhiteKnightTwo, VMS Eve) have both been developed for Virgin Galactic by Mojave-based Scaled Composites. Founded by Burt Rutan, Scaled developed SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 claimed the $10m Ansari X Prize as the world's first privately developed manned spacecraft. Virgin Galactic's new vehicles share much of the same basic design, but are being built to carry six customers, or the equivalent scientific research payload, on sub-orbital space flights, allowing an out-of-the-seat, zero-gravity experience and offering astounding views of the planet from the black sky of space for tourist astronauts and a unique microgravity platform for researchers. The VSS Enterprise and VMS Eve test flight program is well under way, leading to Virgin Galactic commercial operations, which will be based at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
About NanoRacks LLC
NanoRacks LLC was formed in 2009 to provide quality hardware and services for the U.S. National Laboratory onboard the International Space Station. The company developed and has two research platforms onboard the U.S. National Laboratory, which can house plug and play payloads using the CubeSat form factor. The current signed customer pipeline of over 50 payloads including domestic and international educational institutions, research organizations and government organizations, has propelled NanoRacks into a leadership position in understanding the emerging commercial market for low-earth orbit utilization.