Who knew the perks of being a research scientist could be so good? But the Southwest Research Insitute has handed over $1.6 million to Virgin Galactic to fly some of its staff into space.
SWRI is hoping to use the trip to carry out microgravity, biology, climate and astronomy research. Initially, two researchers have been booked to fly to 328,000 feet, with the plan being to make similar arrangements for another six seats.
SwRI says it will also help American researchers who don't have direct spaceflight experience to develop and fly their payloads and personnel on suborbital missions.
"Initially, two of our payload specialists will be flying on Virgin Galactic, conducting biomedical monitoring, atmospheric imaging and microgravity planetary regolith experiments," says Dr Alan Stern, associate vice president of SwRI’s space division.
"We’re excited to be flying with Virgin Galactic to pioneer research missions on their amazing vehicles; we look forward to the not so distant day when entire Virgin Galactic flights are filled with researchers and their experiments."
Virgin Galactic has already signed up over 400 people for tourist flights, but says it expects science missions to be an important area for the company in years to come. It says it offers a significantly larger cabin than any other company taking deposits today, allowing unique technology demonstrations and science experiments.
"This agreement signals the enormous scientific potential of the Virgin spaceflight system," says George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic president and CEO. "Virgin Galactic will be able to offer researchers flights to space that are unprecedented in frequency and cost."