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Scientists book commercial spaceflights

BOULDER, Colo., Feb. 28 (UPI) -- A Colorado research institute says it has booked tickets with two commercial spaceflight companies to take its scientists into suborbital space to work.

The Southwest Research Institute has purchased two tickets from Virgin Galactic for flights aboard its SpaceShipTwo commercial spaceliner and reserved six more, SPACE.com reported Monday.

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The agreement, worth a total of about $1.6 million, is the first ticket sale by Virgin Galactic specifically aimed at flying scientists into suborbital space.

The agreement will allow researchers to use SpaceShipTwo as a flying laboratory for experiments in weightlessness, biology, astronomy and climate research, officials said.

"We've already designed and built three experiments to fly on these flights," SwRI scientist Alan Stern said.

The first passenger flights of SpaceShipTwo could occur by 2012, Virgin Galactic officials have said.

California-based spaceflight company XCOR Aerospace says it has also signed an agreement with SwRI to take institute scientists and their experiments on six flights in its two-seat Lynx vehicle.

Each Lynx flight will carry a SwRI scientist to perform a variety of biomedical and astronomy experiments on board, XCOR officials said.

The Lynx is still under development, and company officials have said the vehicle's first test flights, lasting up to 30 minutes, could take place sometime this year.

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"These are exciting times for the suborbital research field," said Stern, who will be one of the researchers going up in the Lynx.

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