FAA investigates Richard Branson’s spaceflight

In July, billionaire Richard Branson decided to take a walk in space. Aboard the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, the owner of Virgin Galactic was launched from an aircraft carrier at the company’s spaceport in New Mexico on July 11 for a sub-orbital tour. Now, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the off-course descent of the flight.

The FAA released the investigation this Wednesday (1). According to the agency, the vehicle deviated from the designated airspace during the flight. Also along the way, the two pilots of the mission were alerted by yellow and red light warnings, which should have caused them to abort the mission. But, the flight continued and landed safely.

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The VSS Unity was flown by Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, with CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer piloting the VMS Eve aircraft carrier. In addition to Branson, the flight had three company employees on board: Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor, Colin Bennett , lead operations engineer, and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government relations and research operations.

The rocket plane reached an altitude of 86 thousand meters, passing for a few minutes by the “frontier” with space before returning to the ground. The problem investigated by the FAA happened when the space plane was accelerating towards peak altitude. The ship was not flying as abruptly as it should have.

The beacon gave pilots two options: implement corrective action or abort the rocket engine. The safest option was precisely the second, canceling Richard Branson and the crew into space. For now, it is unclear what kind of corrective action Mackay and Masucci took, nor whether they pursued the billionaire’s pressure.

“During the July 11, 2021 flight, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicle deviated from its Air Traffic Control authorization upon returning to Spaceport America. The FAA investigation is ongoing,” a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Crew of Unity 22, Virgin Galactic's first tourist flight into space
In addition to Richard Branson (D), the flight took three other company employees. Image: Virgin Galactic

The flight performed in July fulfilled Branson’s goal of traveling into space. Initially, the flight date was later, but he pushed the calendar forward to win the space race from Amazon and Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos, who also took a brief space tour in the same month.

Richard Branson’s company’s next manned mission will be the first revenue-generating flight. Virgin Galactic will put one of its spacecraft back in the air at the end of next month, with three members of the Italian Air Force.

Via: The Verge

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