Virgin Galactic announced a new partnership with NASA to develop a high-speed vehicle for high-speed air travel across Earth. Since NASA has already been pursuing development of high-mach air travel, this new partnership with Virgin Galactic (and their subsidiary The Spaceship Company) is figuring out a sustainable way for high-speed transportation technologies to civil and commercial aviation.
Virgin Galactic believes it will be able to pursue and complete this project with NASA because they have developed, engineered, and have run flight-tests on their current fleet. And for the last twenty years, their goal has been to send commercial tourist passengers on a trip that includes amazing otherworldly views, and the feeling of weightlessness.
The partnership was formed under a Space Act Agreement which leverages NASA’s research in the field of supersonic air travel. In a press release, Virgin Galactic shares that they are “seeking to develop a vehicle for the next-generation of safe and efficient high speed air travel, with a focus on customer experience and environmental responsibility,” in cooperation with its “industry partners.”
Along with the announcement, Virgin Galactic also said it is still studying how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect their mission. Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said that after pausing operations in March, they have been taking various safety precautions at their facilities to allow employees to continue working. They have actually been working on side projects to help fight the virus, such as the development of “breathing hoods” to help provide oxygen to COVID-19 patients, and also worked with NASA previously to produce enclosures for patients on gurneys, protecting medical workers from the virus.
Despite the pandemic, Virgin Galactic continue to plan and work on their next test flights. To date, they have only flown five people on two test flights. And since Virgin Galactic doesn’t have a timeline yet for when the first passenger flights will begin, they are now just focused on starting their powered tests back up again even while on quarantine or lockdown.