On February 27, Virgin Galactic announced that it had signed a contract with Nanoracks to outfit SpaceShip Two with experimental racks substantially similar to those used aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The racks are intended to allow researchers to transition experiments between the suborbital SpaceShip Two and ISS.
Virgin Galactic head of special projects Vice President William Pomerantz said that the ship is being equipped to allow for both manual and automated experiments. Although of short duration, with just a few minutes of microgravity as compared to ISS, SpaceShip Two will offer researchers, who will be more able to accompany their experiments and afford more flights, unprecedented access to space . Although Virgin Galactic has not yet announced exact costs for experimental runs, Pomerantz indicated it would be proportional to the $200,000 ticket cost for a tourist’s seat, and significantly less than typical costs for flying an experiment aboard ISS.
NanoRacks has modified the retired Space Shuttle’s mid-deck racks for reduced weight, appropriate for a suborbital flight. A typical Nanorack mission on SpaceShip Two will carry 1,300 lb of experiments in addition to one researcher. Another 200 lb would be apportioned for automated experiments.
SpaceShip Two is currently undergoing NASA flight safety reviews for a test flight on an unspecified date in 2012. Virgin Galactic has already sold more than 500 tickets for tourist flights aboard its suborbital ship.