Virgin Galactic signs Space Act Agreement with NASA to help tackle COVID-19

Image from Virgin Galactic
Image from Virgin Galactic
Headshot of Greg Rose
by Greg Rose
26 April 2020

In the continued efforts to aid in the fight against COVID-19, Virgin Galactic has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA, which outlines Virgin Galactic’s commitment to developing innovative solutions to the problems facing healthcare workers on the frontlines.

As part of the ongoing work, Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) has made significant progress in the development and testing of the PPB Hood - a device designed to support those admitted with COVID-19 with portable oxygen-rich pressure chambers, reducing the subsequent need for ventilator intubation. The team is on track to produce 400 PPB Hoods at a specially constructed assembly line at the Final Assembly, Integration and Test Hangar (FAITH) in Mojave.

George Whitesides, CEO at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, has written on Virgin Galactic’s website about the team’s recent work and next steps towards manufacturing, testing, and perfecting the patient hoods. He explained how the Space Act is “our way of ensuring that the best and brightest at Virgin Galactic can support their local communities during this challenging time and provide life-saving solutions for those suffering from COVID-19”.

He added: “Virgin Galactic is proud to be playing an active role in the Antelope Valley COVID-19 Task Force alongside NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Antelope Valley College, TSC, and the City of Lancaster, CA. Early in the outbreak, this task force came together with a shared mission to develop the solutions needed to protect healthcare workers and save lives.

“I am enormously proud of the contributions of our team, whose dedication in the face of adversity inspires me greatly. With this Space Act Agreement, we chart our next steps forward as a company and as proud members of a global community, committed to doing our best when times are at their hardest.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine commented: “The work NASA employees are doing in California is one of several examples of how the agency is contributing to the whole-of-government response to coronavirus.

“By channeling the unique skillset of our workforce and engaging private and public partners, we can make a difference in communities such as the Antelope Valley and nationwide.”

The assembly line at FAITH consists of 12 workstations, each hosting a step in the hood fabrication process, and manned by a member of a 20-strong volunteer team made up of NASA Armstrong and TSC employees. This team was supported by a further group of volunteers working behind the scenes to support design, materials procurement, and tool sourcing.

These products will be made available to the Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, California, where pressure testing on five prototype hoods has already taken place. The team are also working separately on conducting a further test program with Bartlett Community Hospital in Juneau, Alaska.

Image from Virgin Galactic
Image from Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic, together with TSC, NASA, and the Antelope Valley Hospital team, has also been working on another project to develop and build negative pressure enclosures – specialist equipment that covers a patient on a gurney or hospital bed. These enclosures are designed to protect medical staff by containing infected air and filtering it so that it does not contaminate the wider room environment.

Dr. Daniel Burgin Khodabakhsh, MD, Antelope Valley Hospital, said: “The innovative hoods and negative pressure enclosures that are being built by this aerospace collaboration will save lives and keep healthcare works from getting sick in the fight against COVID-19. We in the AV Hospital Emergency Room are grateful and have also been inspired as we have worked on the development of equipment that can help others across the world.”

Head over to Virgin Galactic to read more from George Whitesides and find out more about the world’s first commercial spaceline.