FAA grounds Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two after ‘mishap’ on Richard Branson’s flight


Richard Branson goes to space

Richard Branson floats in microgravity throughout the Virgin Galactic flight above New Mexico on July 11.


Virgin Galactic

The Federal Aviation Administration says Virgin Galactic will not be making one other journey to the sting of area, for now.

The company says the corporate’s VSS Unity rocket airplane veered out of its designated airspace because it glided again all the way down to Earth for a touchdown at Spaceport America in New Mexico on July 11. The much-hyped flight to the edge of space was the company’s first with a full crew, including billionaire founder Richard Branson, aboard.

The FAA confirmed in a press release to CNET on Thursday that throughout the flight, “the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo car deviated from its air site visitors management clearance because it returned to Spaceport America.”

Just a few hours later, the FAA introduced it was grounding all the corporate’s SpaceShipTwo automobiles, together with Unity, whereas the mishap investigation continues.

“Virgin Galactic could not return the SpaceShipTwo car to flight till the FAA approves the ultimate mishap investigation report or determines the problems associated to the mishap don’t have an effect on public security,” an company spokesperson stated by way of electronic mail.

The FAA usually will conduct a routine mishap investigation any time something out of the abnormal occurs throughout such a flight.

The problem with Unity’s descent was initially reported in the New Yorker by Nicholas Schmidle, writer of the guide Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut.

A press release from Virgin Galactic acknowledges that the “flight’s final trajectory deviated from our preliminary plan… the flight did drop under the altitude of the airspace that’s protected for Virgin Galactic missions for a brief distance and time (1 minute and 41 seconds) earlier than reentering restricted airspace that’s protected all the way in which to the bottom for Virgin Galactic missions.”

In different phrases, the corporate says it was out of bounds vertically for a second, however by no means laterally.

“When the car encountered high-altitude winds which modified the trajectory… our pilots responded appropriately to those altering flight circumstances precisely as they had been educated,” the assertion reads.

However Virgin Galactic’s former flight take a look at director Mark “Forger” Stucky, who was watching all the flight from Spaceport America on July 11, disputes the corporate’s account.

“The information are the pilots did not trim to realize the right pitch fee, the winds had been effectively inside limits, they did nothing of substance to handle the trajectory error and entered Class A airspace with out authorization,” Stucky wrote on Twitter.

Stucky was an integral a part of the Virgin Galactic staff for greater than a decade main as much as July’s flight, which was additionally arrange as a significant media occasion with a whole bunch of invited company and reporters, together with yours really, in attendance. However a few of Stucky’s criticisms of Virgin Galactic and its security report had been a part of Schmidle’s guide, which got here out in Could.

In response to Schmidle, after the guide got here out, “Stucky was stripped of his flight duties and excluded from key planning conferences forward of the July 11 occasion. He watched Branson’s flight from the runway; it was the primary mission for which he had no tasks after greater than a decade on this system. Eight days after Branson’s flight, an HR supervisor booked time on his calendar, after which fired Stucky over Zoom.”


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Virgin Galactic didn’t respond to a request for comment specifically on Stucky’s criticisms. However, the company says it disputes “the misleading characterizations and conclusions” of Schmidle’s New Yorker article, which cites the former employee’s concerns about the culture and approach to safety within Virgin Galactic.

Accidents and safety concerns led to multiple delays for Virgin Galactic’s commercial space program, which Branson once hoped to initiate by 2010. A fatal test stand accident in 2007 and another mishap in 2014 that ended in a crash and the death of a Virgin Galactic test pilot pushed the program back by years.

Ultimately, though, Unity made it back to the ground safely on July 11, and the flight was widely hailed as a success.

The grounding of SpaceShip Two will likely disrupt the company’s upcoming flight plans. Its next test flight will carry members of the Italian Air Force and was scheduled to take off as soon as later this month.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, Virgin Galactic announced that the mission will be dubbed Unity 23 and marks its “first research customer mission,” as the passengers will be conducting scientific experiments in microgravity during the flight.

“The company is targeting a flight window in late September or early October 2021,” the statement reads, “pending technical checks and weather.”

Now Virgin Galactic will have to amend that statement to include a pending FAA investigation.

Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.  





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