Computer fail-safe foils Virgin Galactic space flight

Branson three space flights away from heading into the "great unknown"

2020 (c) Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic’s test flight program suffered a setback last weekend after the rocket’s engine failed to fire up to propel VSS Unity into space.

All final checks were running to schedule for the latest trial flight, which was the first from Spaceport America and destined to be Virgin Galactic’s maiden payload mission.

A successful launch from the New Mexico space gateway was imminent, until the very last minute.

Read the live tweets from Virgin Galactic in the lead up to the launch, and preceding the foiled attempt below.

SpaceShipTwo Unity after landing back at Spaceport America | 2020 (c) Virgin Galactic

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“During the test flight, the rocket motor did not fire due to the ignition sequence not completing. Following this event, the pilots conducted a safe landing and return to Spaceport America, New Mexico as planned,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

The company said the glitch was caused after an onboard computer which monitors the propulsion of the system lost connection, triggering a fail-safe scenario that intentionally halted ignition of the rocket motor.

The system responded as intended, Virgin Galactic said, defaulting to a “safe state” when the power or communication with sensors was lost.

Michael Colglazier, CEO, Virgin Galactic said: ‘“Our flight landed beautifully, with pilots, planes, and spaceship safe, secure, and in excellent shape — the foundation of every successful mission!

“The flight did not reach space as we had been planning. After being released from its mothership, the spaceship’s onboard computer that monitors the rocket motor lost connection. As designed, this triggered a fail-safe scenario that intentionally halted ignition of the rocket motor. Following this occurrence, our pilots flew back to Spaceport America and landed gracefully as usual.”

Colglazier lauded the safety aspect of the flight, saying he was “even more confident that this is the level of safety that consumers will want and will be expecting from us”.

The former Disney executive said Virgin Galactic would aim to repeat another test flight, including the payloads, a separate test flight involving “mission specialists” in the cabin, and then another launch including Sir Richard Branson.

Lead image: Virgin Galactic pilots on their way to the Virgin Galactic Spaceflight System | 2020 (c) Virgin Galactic

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