Scientists Sign Up For Private Space Access

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Virgin Galactic and XCOR will carry scientists as well as tourists into suborbital space, under new contracts announced this week. The Southwest Research Institute said it will send two scientists into space aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo and will fly at least six missions aboard XCOR Corporation's Lynx Mark I spaceplane. The missions will reach altitudes up to 350,000 feet and higher, SwRI said, beyond the internationally recognized boundary of space. Scientists will perform experiments in biomedicine, microgravity and astronomical imaging. SwRI also plans to later fly a dedicated six-seat research mission with Virgin Galactic, and has contract options for up to three additional XCOR flights.

XCOR's Lynx spaceplane is a two-seat, piloted, liquid-rocket-powered vehicle that will take off and land horizontally and reach altitudes up to 200,000 feet. It is now in development and expected to fly in 2012. SpaceShipTwo, now undergoing flight testing, has two pilots and seats for up to six passengers. Researchers in SpaceShipTwo's large cabin can leave their seats to work together in the micro-gravity environment. SwRI is a nonprofit research-and-development firm based in San Antonio, Texas, and Boulder, Colo., specializing in applied engineering and physical sciences. It is the first company to contract to fly its researchers in space aboard next-generation suborbital spacecraft. XCOR and Virgin Galactic are both based in Mojave, Calif.