Virgin Galactic (VGX, Las Cruces) has signed an agreement with the Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - ASI) which would lead to Italian researchers participating in SpaceShipTwo test flights in the United States prior to eventually launching sub-orbital operations from southern Italy, ANSA newswire has reported.

"This partnership could see Virgin Galactic launch the first person in history into space from Italian soil - and in fact from any European territory. Together, we will help to expand opportunities for science, industry and the millions of people who dream of experiencing space for themselves," Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has said.

In the first phase of the collaboration, Italian researchers will partake in flight testing of the SpaceShipTwo suborbital aircraft from Spaceport America in New Mexico. ASI will also conduct experiments during the flights. The agreement foresees that the Italian agency will not start participating in actual flights before September 2019. The launches are expected to take place in New Mexico.

Eventually, according to an agreement inked with Altec (a joint-venture of ASI and Thales Alenia Space) and Sitael, a privately owned space enterprise, Virgin Galactic sister firm The Spaceship Company will develop a spaceship based out of Taranto Grottaglie, an airport in southern Italy recently designated as the country's first horizontal-launch spaceport.

The parties also intend to pursue other opportunities, including the use of suborbital microgravity for education, training of astronauts, and biological and biotechnological research.