The space tourism company Virgin Galactic is one of seven companies that will carry technology and research equipment to the boundary between the Earth and space under new NASA contracts.
NASA announced that the seven two-year contracts for suborbital flights are together worth $10 million. It did not specify the number of flights or the amount of of cargo to be carried.
The U.S. space agency said it is "moving toward the goal of making frequent, low-cost access to near-space available to a wide range of engineers, scientists and technologists."
Most of the companies involved offer flights that include several minutes of weightlessness, which allows scientists to run experiments and test equipment with minimal influence from gravity.
The amount of Virgin Galactic's contract is relatively small compared to the $55 million in deposits the company said it has already collected from 445 would-be space tourists eager to fly into suborbital space aboard the company's SpaceShipTwo craft, which is undergoing test flights.
Nevertheless, Virgin Galactic said in a statement Wednesday that the contract marks an "important milestone" for the company.
"Although generally referred to as a space tourism company, providing access to space to researchers and their experiments is viewed by Virgin Galactic as both a future mission segment and a significant business opportunity."
The six other companies that received NASA contracts for suborbital flights include XCOR, another space tourism company, as well as a number of companies more focused on unmanned flights:
- Armadillo Aerospace, in Heath, Texas.
- Near Space Corp., in Tillamook, Ore.
- Masten Space Systems, Mojave, Calif.
- Up Aerospace Inc., Highlands Ranch, Colo.
- Whittinghill Aerospace LLC, Camarillo, Calif.