The civilian mission ran into issues that are just now becoming apparent.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating Richard Branson’s historic venture into space after it deviated from its flight path—an mistake that might prohibit Virgin Galactic from launching its next commercial trip.
According to a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, an inquiry into the July 11 suborbital trip that took the billionaire and five Virgin Galactic workers from the New Mexico desert to the edge of space is continuing. The project, called Unity22, was generally lauded as a watershed moment on the road to space tourism after a successful launch and landing, albeit it also drew criticism for its cost and carbon footprint.
However, the SpaceShipTwo spaceplane’s descent is now being examined for a possibly dangerous departure from its air traffic control clearance space. The FAA assigns mandatory airspace for private space travel as a method of minimising collisions and other incidents with general air traffic, according to a storey from The New Yorker, which first disclosed the investigation’s existence.
According to the New Yorker, a yellow caution sign lit almost one minute into the Unity22 trip’s rocket motor run, alerting the pilots that their route aloft was too narrow. This may have two serious consequences: the spaceplane may deviate from its designated airspace, and it may also fail to arrive at its “entry glide cone,” where it must begin its fall in order to have enough energy to safely reach Earth. A light lit red as the jet moved forward, according to The New Yorker, a warning that veteran Air Force pilot Mike Masucci said the outlet should “scare the heck out of you.”
While the pilots eventually completed the flight with a safe landing, Virgin Galactic admits the spaceplane veered off course for one minute and 41 seconds, falling below the protected airspace height.
In reaction to The New Yorker storey, Virgin Galactic claimed in a statement to Popular Science, “When the vehicle encountered high altitude winds that altered the course, the pilots and systems monitored the trajectory to ensure it stayed within mission parameters.” The response also refuted what it termed the article’s “misleading characterizations and conclusions,” claiming that the pilots “responded properly” to the flying circumstances and that “at no point” were passengers, crew, or the general public in risk as a result of the change.
While the Virgin Galactic statement emphasised safety as a top priority and a part of the company culture, including two technical issues in recent years that called the spaceplane’s readiness for flight into question. According to The Verge, Branson’s attendance on future flights was promised following a similar event in 2014, in which one pilot was murdered and another was “severely wounded.” Branson had promised to make the trip himself to reinforce the carrier’s trustworthiness before taking on any more civilian passengers.
However, the FAA probe might further postpone the long-awaited plan to get paying participants on board, which has been in the works for more than a decade. Virgin Galactic’s next trip, according to The Verge, is set for late September and will be the company’s first to make revenue. The FAA informed Popular Science that the firm can’t fly SpaceShipTwo again until the administration “approves the final accident investigation report or finds that the concerns connected to the mishap do not endanger public safety.”
Virgin Galactic has stated that it is taking these issues seriously and is collaborating with the FAA to address them.
The firm told Popular Science, “We have been working collaboratively with the FAA to assist a comprehensive assessment and prompt resolution of this issue.”