NASA will charter as many as three flights on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, an air-launched spacecraft designed to carry eight people on trips to suborbital space, a Virgin Galactic representative said in describing the deal, valued up to $4.5 million.

This joint venture is stressing the viability of private spaceflight. We are excited to be working with NASA to provide the research community with this opportunity to carry out experiments in space, George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO and president, said in a statement.

Virgin Galactic is hoping to gain a lot of credibility when NASA charters its craft. The company, aspiring to be the world's first commercial carrier in space, said NASA's order was for scientific experiments.

An enormous range of disciplines can benefit from access to space, but historically, such research opportunities have been rare and expensive, Whitesides added. At Virgin Galactic, we are fully dedicated to revolutionizing access to space, both for tourist astronauts and, through programs like this, for researchers.

Virgin Galactic had earlier announced Michael Moses, who was NASA's final shuttle launch integration manager, was appointed vice president of operations at the company's Spaceport America headquarters and launch site in New Mexico for commercial suborbital flights of SpaceShipTwo.

Moses will develop and lead the team responsible for Virgin Galactic spaceship operations and logistics, flight-crew operations, customer training and spaceport ground operations. He will also oversee operational safety and risk management.

Virgin Galactic, founded by the Virgin Group's Richard Branson, hopes to make its first passenger flight sometime next year from the still-to-be finished Spaceport America in New Mexico. The company said it had taken about 455 reservations for the ride. The price per flight for a hopeful space tourist is $200,000.