Virgin Galactic launches banned by FAA

Unity 23 spaceflight path deviation concerns aviation regulator

© 2018 Virgin Galactic

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has told Virgin Galactic it cannot proceed with any future space launches following a mishap that occurred on the most recent spaceflight which was carrying Virgin founder, Richard Branson.

The FAA, which had only granted Virgin Galactic its full commercial launch licence in June ahead of the 11 July space flight, said VSS Unity had deviated off course during its descent back to Spaceport America. The straying put the ship outside the air traffic control clearance area, NBC News reported.

The spaceship dropped below the protected airspace for one minute and 41 seconds, caused by high-altitude winds which necessitated the pilots to alter the flight path. The aerospace company said the flight was “a safe and successful test flight that adhered to our flight procedures and training protocols”.

Virgin Galactic said that at no time were the crew on flight Unity 22 in any added danger.

Mission Specialists before Unity22 flight - Colin Bennet, Lead Operations Engineer; Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor; Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations and Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic Founder | 2021 (c) Virgin Galactic

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In a statement, the FAA said: “Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety.”

That decision throws a spanner in the works for the planned “Unity 23” test flight and first research customer mission flagged for late September/early October 2021. That mission, the 23rd flight for VSS Unity, is planned to carry three paying crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council.

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