Back in July, Richard Branson set the precedent for his fellow billionaires, going to space on his company Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft. That was the first successful test flight for the company, and had paved the way for its first commercial flight, scheduled for late September, or early October. Well, there’s a slight change of plan. The FAA has now grounded Virgin Galactic for deviating from its trajectory outside of cleared airspace during the test flight in July.
The company will now face an investigation, and all flights from the aircraft maker will be cancelled until then.
“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.”
According to a report by the New Yorker, the pilots on the test flight encountered a yellow warning, which later turned red. This indicates that the flight was on the wrong trajectory and that the spaceplane’s climb was too shallow. The nose was insufficiently vertical, which means that the spacecraft could have had trouble landing on the runway.
The best way to deal with this would have been to abort the flight, the report said. However, aborting would have meant ‘losing’ to fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos, who was planning to go on a similar mission in a few days. Thus, Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft remained off course for a total of 1 minute and 41 seconds, the FAA argues.
However, Virgin Galactic argues that this deviation was caused by high altitude winds. In response, the pilots and systems monitored the trajectory to ensure it remained within mission parameters. It also adds that the ship did not travel above any population centers or cause a hazard to the public, while acknowledging the diversion from the pre decided path.
The flight in September is supposed to carry members of the Italian Air Force to space. Whether the company will still be able to meet its deadline remains up for debate.