Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is grounded until the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completes an investigation into the company’s test flight carrying Richard Branson. During that 11 July flight, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo veered out of its approved airspace on its descent toward land, 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,” an FAA spokesperson said on Thursday.
A New Yorker story published on Wednesday first revealed the FAA investigation and found that the two pilots for Unity 22 had been alerted to yellow and red warning lights during the ship’s rocket-powered ascent to space indicating that the spaceship wasn’t ascending vertically enough to be able to free-glide back with enough momentum to land after reaching space. During that flight on 11 July, SpaceShipTwo reached a maximum altitude of 86 kilometres. As the spaceship was returning, it veered out of its Air Traffic Control airspace, prompting an FAA investigation.
Virgin Galactic said the sudden change of course was caused by high-altitude winds. According to the company, both pilots responded adequately. In a statement, Virgin Galactic said the flight was “a safe and successful test flight that complied with our flight procedures and training protocols.”