Virgin Galactic has signed a framework agreement to bring commercial space flight to Italy, following two years of business discussions, regulatory analysis, studies on potential operations and market assessment.
“This partnership could see Virgin Galactic launch the first person in history into space from Italian soil—and in fact from any European territory,” Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said.
The agreement was signed July 6 between Virgin Galactic, its technical sister organization The Spaceship Company; Italian Space Agency-owned public-private company Altec; and Italy’s largest privately owned space company, Sitael.
Virgin Galactic’s operational headquarters will continue to be located at Spaceport America in New Mexico, but the agreement paves the way for “a dedicated space vehicle system,” built by The Spaceship Company, to be positioned at a new spaceport located at Italy’s Taranto-Grottaglie Airport. The US Department of State already agreed to provide technical assistance for the future spaceport, back in August 2017.
“The space vehicle would be utilized by customers like the Italian Space Agency as a science platform for high-frequency space research, as well as private individuals to experience space. This dual nature will drive innovation, spur industrial development, STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), as well as promote further investments and economic growth in Puglia and Italy as a whole,” Virgin Galactic said.
Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company are testing the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and reusable space-launch system SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity in California. Commercial operations will be based in New Mexico, at Spaceport America.