Virgin Galactic has signed a contract to fly a crewed research flight for the Italian Air Force as early as next year.

Under the contract, Virgin Galactic will launch the flight on its SpaceShipTwo spaceflight.

The research mission will see a team of Italian researchers conduct experiments during their time in space. It will include three people and a set of research payloads.

As part of the project, the Italian Air Force and Virgin Galactic are working with the Italian National Research Centre to design the experimental payloads.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said: “We’re delighted to work with the Italian Air Force to further space-based research and technology development through this historic mission.

“The experiments they plan to test on SpaceShipTwo will expand our understanding of space science, and the researchers’ active participation will demonstrate an important new avenue for space research. We are proud that Virgin Galactic is able to provide frequent access to space for this important work.”

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By GlobalData

The spaceflight will allow the researchers to unclip from their seats and perform experiments while being exposed to zero gravity.

The research payloads will include medical instrumentation to study the ‘biological effects of the transitional phase from gravity to microgravity on the human body’.

In addition, the mission will include other testing equipment for research on the chemistry of green fuels.

Italy Defence and Defence Cooperation Attachè Gen Stefano Cont said: “The skills and contributions of the airforce, when combined with those of other national institutions are helping to maintain Italian leadership in the aerospace domain.

“Our interest in this programme ties directly to the airforce main mission, which is at its core national airspace defence.”