Et is a serious setback for the British billionaire Richard Branson: The US aviation authority FAA has imposed a temporary take-off ban due to a problem with the last test flight of his space company Virgin Galactic. The spacecraft type Space Ship Two will not be allowed to take off until the FAA has approved a “final breakdown investigation report” or has determined that there is no threat to public safety, the agency said on Thursday.
It had previously become known that the spacecraft had deviated from the planned flight path on July 11th during a test flight with Branson on board, which received worldwide attention. According to a report by New Yorker magazine, an orange and then a red warning light went on during the flight. Accordingly, the plane’s ascent angle was not steep enough.
Correction at three times the speed of sound
“According to several sources within the company, the safest way to respond to the warning would have been to abort,” the article said. The pilots did not abort the mission, but tried to make a correction at three times the speed of sound. Ultimately, the plane reached a height of 85 kilometers – according to the US definition, the limit to outer space – and later landed safely at Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America airport in the desert of the US state of New Mexico.
The FAA confirmed Thursday that the plane had deviated from the approved course. “The FAA’s investigation is ongoing.” However, no further starts are allowed until further notice. The company’s share price has since plunged by five percent.
Virgin Galactic rejected the presentation in the New Yorker’s article as “misleading”, but admitted that the spacecraft did not cover the planned route. Accordingly, the machine flew 1 minute and 43 seconds lower than planned. However, it was never located above an inhabited area and did not represent a “danger to the public”.
Lifelong dream fulfilled
When high-altitude winds changed the trajectory of Space Ship Two, “the pilots and systems monitored the trajectory to ensure that it stayed within the parameters of the mission,” the company said. “Our pilots responded appropriately to these changing flight conditions, just as they trained and in strict accordance with our established procedures.”
Branson had fulfilled a lifelong dream with the flight – and at the same time defeated his rival Jeff Bezos, who flew into space nine days later on board a rocket from his private space company Blue Origin. The 71-year-old British company founder and adventurer experienced weightlessness for several minutes and later spoke of “the experience of my life”. The flight was staged as a great media spectacle.
Virgin Galactic had actually planned another test flight with members of the Italian Air Force for late September or early October. The paying passengers business should start in early 2022. In early August, Virgin Galactic announced that the ticket price was $ 450,000.
Virging Galactic has seen setbacks time and time again. In 2014, the death of a pilot in an accident during a flight caused the program to be severely delayed.