Virgin Galactic is no longer allowed to fly after incident …

The U.S. Aviation Supervisor (FAA) has decided to ground the Virigin Galactic spaceplane after an incident occurred during its founder Richard Branson’s historic space trip in July.

According to the FAA, the spacecraft SpaceShipTwo deviated from its trajectory and allowed airspace on July 11 while returning to the runway in New Mexico. In the cockpit, an orange and then red tell-tale would have come on first. The latter indicates danger, while the orange light would indicate flying too low, with the nose in the wrong position.

Virgin Galactic has always said the flight was normal, but the FAA has launched an investigation anyway. The aircraft will not be allowed to fly again until the report has been approved or when the authority is certain that the problems related to the incident do not endanger public safety.

READ ALSO. Space journey successful: Richard Branson landed safely after historic test flight with his own rocket

The FAA is responsible for public safety when commercial space flights are launched and landed on Earth and had assigned a zone that would prevent conflict with other flights.

Through the wind

Virgin Galactic admits the flight flew “a short distance and time (1 minute 41 seconds)” lower than agreed on its return to Earth, but calls the warning light reports misleading descriptions of the incident. The company denies that there was ever any danger to passengers or crew.

The flight, Unity 22, “was a safe and successful test flight that met our flight procedures and training protocols,” Virgin Galactic said. “When the aircraft encountered high-altitude winds that altered its trajectory, the pilots and systems monitored its trajectory to ensure it stayed within mission parameters.”

The company says that “although the final trajectory of the flight deviated from our initial plan, it was a controlled and deliberate flight path that allowed it to successfully reach space and land”. “At no time did the aircraft fly over population centers or pose any danger to the public. Representatives from the FAA were present in our in-flight control room and at post-flight debriefings.”

Virgin Galactic says it is “working closely with the FAA to thoroughly investigate and resolve this issue in a timely manner”. The company says it is taking this seriously and is working “to address the root causes of the problem and determine how to prevent this from happening during future missions”. Another SpaceShipTwo flight, this time a commercial research mission, is scheduled for late September or early October, again from New Mexico.

First flight

The spaceplane SpaceShipTwo flew on July 11, piloted by two pilots, to an altitude of about 86 kilometers. Branson himself and three of his closest associates were the passengers, the first to make such a journey.

At that altitude, the atmosphere slowly fades into the vacuum of the universe. At the top, the passengers are weightless for a short time and they float through the aircraft. Through the windows they see the curvature of the Earth, the stars and the dark universe. After a short while, gravity pulls the spaceplane down slowly.

During flight, the aircraft travels more than three times as fast as the sound.

READ ALSO. The start of commercial space tourism: who is traveling with you and will it take a long time before you can come too?

Competitive Battle

Virgin Galactic wil sell tourist flights to space, and Branson wanted to advertise it with his own flight. He is in a fierce competition with two other multi-billionaires. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who went to space a week after Branson, and Elon Musk (Tesla, PayPal, SpaceX) have also plunged into space tourism.

Branson announced his personal space trip after Bezos announced he would be the first ever commercial tourist space trip, outdoing his competitor by pushing the date earlier.

News of the investigation and the flight suspension sent Virgin Galactic’s shares plummeting 2.9 percent on Wall Street.

READ ALSO. Richard Branson beats Jeff Bezos in space race… when he lands back on Earth (+)

Photo: via REUTERS

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