NASA has begun the process of working in collaboration with Virgin Galactic, part of the Virgin Group, owned by Sir Richard Branson. NASA announced on its web site on Febraury 21 2007 that NASA and Virgin Galactic had signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the concept of collaboration between the two entities.
Under the memorandum signed February 20 2007, NASA would work in collaboration in the design and production of such things as “space suits, heat shields for spaceships, hybrid rocket motors and hypersonic vehicles capable of traveling five or more times the speed of sound.”
Such a collaboration would be a step in a new direction for NASA. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a public organization, has never before worked so closely with commercial space companies.
Virgin Galactic plans to be the world’s first operating commercial spaceline. Virgin Galactic has already created SpaceShipOne, the world’s first privately funded and manned spacecraft. It flew three missions in 2004 and is currently in the Smithsonian. Virgin Galactic is currently under way designing and building the SpaceShipTwo.
Sir Richard Branson, the head of the Virgin Group of which Virgin Galactic is a subsidiary, has long been a proponent of the commercial space industry. The former star of “The Rebel Billionaire” has made headlines for his advances in the world of commercial space travel, as well as recently making headlines for his commitment to combating the threat of global warming.
One of the major NASA officials behind the collaboration is Shana Dale, Deputy Administrator of NASA. Dale has long been a major supporter of commercial space development, and sees the collaboration with Virgin Galactic as a mutually beneficial project that will be a boon to the development of commercial space interests.
Prior to her service as the Deputy Administrator of NASA, Dale served as the staff director of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. During her tenure she played a crucial role in passing the Commercial Space Act of 1998. The landmark act encourages the development of commercial space industry.
The collaboration comes as a result of the work of NASA’s Space Portal. This new NASA organization is centered at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, which is also known for hosting the Space Elevator Games every year. Space Portal was created to find ways for NASA to support the development of commercial space industries.
Currently the signed memorandum of understanding will last for two years. During this time neither NASA nor Virgin Galactic will have to pay public or private funds in order to further explore the idea of collaboration.