Press Release

Italian Space Agency (ASI) signs Letter of Intent for Virgin Galactic Research Flight

By SpaceRef Editor
December 18, 2017
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At the annual Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, Virgin Galactic and the Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, ASI) announced that they had signed a Letter of Intent under which ASI would secure a full suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. ASI’s spaceflight mission is planned to take place in 2019 at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The purpose of the ASI flight will be to conduct scientific research, suborbital experiments and to fly an Italian Payload Specialist.  The full agreement will define the scientific and technological research areas for payloads and identify the Italian Principal Investigators and successful payload proposals. The collaboration will also include training and preparation of the onboard Payload Specialist and on-site pre-flight support for the payloads.
This agreement is an important early example of a government space agency contracting with a commercial space company to conduct human-tended suborbital research payloads.  This work can open up new avenues for both government and commercial astronaut training.  ASI will also be the first international space agency – after NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate Flight Opportunities Program – to secure an entire research flight on Virgin Galactic.
ASI is a world leader in space science, satellite technologies and on the development of satellite systems for exploring the Universe. ASI is coordinating the Italian effort to establish a spaceport in Italy to support suborbital spaceflight operations for space research and space travel. ASI is also working with Virgin Orbit who was selected to launch a SITAEL satellite developed in collaboration with ASI and the European Space Agency (ESA).
ASI’s spaceflight is subject to US regulatory approvals.
Italian Space Agency’s President Roberto Battiston: “The space sector is changing quickly and ASI is adapting to the change by developing and using new tools and technologies which become available. Virgin Galactic suborbital flights will provide several minutes of microgravity, ideal conditions to develop and test payloads such as those which will operate for months, starting on 2021, on Space Rider, the reusable European Shuttle being developed at ESA. Suborbital flights open the way to new utilization of space based on public-private partnership with the goal not only to fly people but also to manufacture new materials and  drugs and to  perform scientific research.”
Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides: “We are honored to pursue this dedicated research and human spaceflight mission on SpaceshipTwo with the Italian Space Agency. Collaborative public-private partnerships can enable greater scientific discoveries and technological advances at lower cost, and this mission will serve as a pathfinder for exciting future collaborations with ASI.”
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Ollie Pratt                   Email: [email protected]        Tel: +44 (0)203 727 1428 
The Italian Space Agency (ASI) is the Italian government body in charge to coordinate all national efforts and investments in the space sector. ASI is one of the most significant players in the world in space science, satellite technologies and the development of satellite systems for exploring the Universe. Today, ASI has a key role in Europe as third contributor to the European Space Agency:  in addition it has a close working relationship with NASA, collaborating on many interesting scientific missions and on the ISS. ASI’s mission is to promote, develop and disseminate scientific and technological research applied to the field of space including the development of innovative services while fostering and maintaining the competitiveness of the Italian industrial sector. To learn more, visit
Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline. Founded by Sir Richard Branson and owned by Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS, Virgin Galactic is transforming access to space to change the world for good.  The company aims to offer a reliable, affordable, and frequent spaceflight service, both for private individuals and the science research community. To meet these objectives, Virgin Galactic will be operating its reusable SpaceShipTwo space launch system, capable of carrying people and science experiments. The number of customers who have paid to reserve places in order to experience space for themselves on SpaceShipTwo, or to conduct research, is already greater than the total number of humans who have been to space throughout history. SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, are manufactured and tested in Mojave, California by Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing wing, The Spaceship Company. Commercial operations will be based in New Mexico at Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose built commercial spaceport. To learn more, visit

SpaceRef staff editor.