When a Virgin Galactic plane designed for space tourism eventually launches, a Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory experiment studying magnetic activity will be on board.
The lab's Electronic Field Measurements instrument will be among a dozen experiments that will enter what is known as the "suborbital" region, about 50 miles above Earth's surface, in a NASA-funded mission. A date has not yet been announced for the flight of Virgin's SpaceShipTwo spacecraft.
The experiment seeks to study electromagnetic conditions inside the spacecraft to determine what magnetic fields the craft generates itself, independent of Earth's magnetic field.
"This data will enable future payloads designed to make scientific observations of Earth's magnetic field to cancel out interference from the spacecraft," H. Todd Smith, a space scientist and principal investigator of the experiment, said in a statement.
NASA chose the experiment and 11 others for what will be a 90-minute flight in microgravity. Other experiments will explore use of 3D printers in space and a prototype orbiting fuel depot.
Virgin Galactic is owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments PJS and calls itself the world's first commercial "spaceline." It says it has received $80 million in deposits from 700 individuals interested in space flight.