The Italian Space Agency is planning to conduct scientific research out of Spaceport America in Southern New Mexico under a partnership with Virgin Galactic, the facility’s anchor tenant. Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press file photo
How do you say Truth or Consequences in Italian?
The Italian Space Agency is planning to conduct scientific research out of Spaceport America in Southern New Mexico under a partnership with Virgin Galactic, the facility’s anchor tenant.
The company announced this week it is working on a deal to send equipment and a scientist from the Italian agency into suborbital space onboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo craft in 2019.
The news comes as Virgin Galactic says it is moving more staff to New Mexico and preparing for flights out of the facility in Sierra County by the end of next year.
The Italian Space Agency says its flight out of New Mexico on board the privately owned craft will allow it to test equipment that could be used on a space shuttle the European space program is currently developing.
“Suborbital flights open the way to new utilization of space based on public-private partnership with the goal not only to fly people but also to manufacture new materials and drugs and to perform scientific research,” Italian Space Agency President Roberto Battiston said in a statement.
Virgin Galactic said the partnership could “open up new avenues for both government and commercial astronaut training.”
The exact scope of the research will be specified in a final agreement that is still in the works.
But the agency, known in Italian as Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, has been involved in developing satellites and probes. The agency is also coordinating efforts to develop a spaceport in Italy for suborbital research and travel.
And with Virgin Galactic effectively selling room on its spacecraft to a government agency, the announcement reflects ongoing shifts in the space industry.
When officials from Virgin Galactic and New Mexico’s state government cut the ribbon on the $220 million facility near White Sands Missile Range at the end of 2011, they touted it as a destination for wealthy tourists willing to spend $250,000 for a flight into space.
Spaceport America has been home to several dozen rocket launches. But those flights for wealthy adventurers have yet to take off. The spaceflight industry is growing, but the focus has shifted from sending tourists into space toward research and other commercial missions, particularly now that NASA has ended its shuttle program.
Critics argue Spaceport America is a boondoggle that continues to suck tax dollars out of Doña Ana and Sierra counties, where shoppers still a pay a levy on goods they purchase to pay off the cost of building the facility.
But boosters argue Spaceport America’s time is finally arriving.
And Virgin Galactic’s sale of space on board its spacecraft to a government agency suggests research could be a particularly important part of Spaceport America’s business model if it is to be viable.
Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic is poised to expand operations in the state.
In early November, a representative from the company told legislators it had added 10 full-time employees in New Mexico over the previous 12 months and will have 30 full-time staff in the state by the end of the year.
The company is testing SpaceShipTwo in California, and if those tests go as planned, Virgin Galactic says it could move another 85 employees to Las Cruces over the next year.
A reusable, winged spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry two pilots and up to six fare-paying astronauts or payloads for research. The craft can re-enter the atmosphere for a conventional runway landing.
The craft suffered a setback after a test flight crashed in California in 2014, killing a co-pilot.
But earlier this year, billionaire and company founder Richard Branson told a conference in Hong Kong that Virgin Galactic was resuming test flights and aimed to launch full commercial passenger operations by the end of 2018.
Quelle: The Santa Fe New Mexican