NASA awarded Virgin Galactic and three other companies contracts to fly technology demonstration payloads on suborbital flights, the agency announced Sept. 8. Awarded under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, the contracts are worth a minimum $100,000 and entitle the agency to purchase payload accommodations aboard the selected providers’ vehicles for the next three to five years.

For Virgin Galactic, the NASA contract will supplement long-awaited passenger flights, which company founder Sir Richard Branson said Sept. 9 on CBS’s “The Late Show” would begin in early 2015.


The other three selected providers are:

  • Masten Space Systems, a Mojave, California, company that flies small vertical takeoff, vertical landing rockets.
  • Paragon Space Development Corp. of Tucson, Arizona, which is developing a passenger-carrying stratospheric balloon that will be operated by its World View business.
  • Up Aerospace Inc. of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, which operates expendable solid-fueled suborbital rockets that launch from New Mexico’s Spaceport America.