June 22 (UPI) -- Virgin Galactic announced Monday an agreement with NASA allowing it to develop a private astronaut readiness program for trips to the International Space Station.
NASA said it hopes the agreement will encourage more commercial participation in low Earth orbit. Under the agreement, Virgin Galactic will develop the program similar to one it has to prepare space tourists for its own flights.
The company said it could buy seats on flights to the space station, were private citizens could travel to the space station along with assisting scientific research. Some 603 "space tourists" have made reservations to fly on Virgin Galactic from $200,000 to $250,000 per person.
"We are excited to partner with NASA on this private orbital spaceflight program, which will not only allow us to use our spaceflight platform but also offer our space training infrastructure to NASA and other agencies," George Whitesides, chief executive officer of Virgin Galactic said in a statement.
"Based on the unsurpassed levels of spaceflight customer commitments we have secured to date, we are proud to share that insight in helping to grow another market for the new space economy. We want to bring the planetary perspective to many thousands of people, Whitesides said.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine suggested an agreement was close on Friday, saying on Twitter it would issue a request for information.
"NASA is developing the process to fly astronauts on commercial suborbital spacecraft," Bridenstine said. "Whether it's suborbital, orbital or deep space, NASA will utilize our nation's innovative commercial capabilities. RFI will be released next week."