Virgin Galactic signs an agreement aimed at taking tourists up to the edge of space from southern Italy.
Suborbital space flights for tourists could be launching within a couple of years from a ‘spaceport’ yet to be built in Italy.
Virgin Galactic has signed a deal with two of the country’s biggest aerospace companies, Sitael and Altec, which includes plans for the spaceport to be constructed at Taranto-Grottaglie Airport on the ‘heel’ of the country.
Altec is a public-private company owned by the Italian Space Agency and Thales Alenia Space, while Sitael is the largest privately owned space company in Italy with its headquarters in the Puglia region.
The framework agreement follows two years of discussions, analysis and market assessments.
“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’s founder Richard Branson enthused.
Virgin Galactic’s operational headquarters will continue to be Spaceport America in New Mexico, but the new agreement is designed to create a “dedicated space vehicle system” built by The Spaceship Company.
The space vehicle would be used by customers like the Italian Space Agency as a “science platform for high-frequency space research”, as well as by private individuals to experience space.
The agreement comes almost four years after Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo broke apart in mid-air above the Mojave Desert in California, shortly after being released from the mothership. Investigations showed that the air braking system appeared to have deployed incorrectly and too early.