Security alerts were triggered in the cabin of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft that transported billionaire Richard Branson into space in July, an investigation by The New Yorker magazine revealed.
The FAA (United States Federal Aviation Administration, in Portuguese) reported on Thursday (2) that the Virgin Galactic it will not be able to carry out new spaceflights while it is investigated why the spacecraft that carried the company’s founder, Richard Branson, on July 11, deviated from its planned path.
“Virgin Galactic will not be able to fly SpaceShipTwo again until the FAA approves the final investigation report into the diversion or determines that the problem does not affect public safety,” the federal agency said.
Virgin Galactic ensured at the time that the flight went according to plan.
“During the July 11, 2021 flight, Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo aircraft deviated from its authorized route by air traffic control while returning to Spaceport America,” the space base used by the company in the desert of the state of New Mexico, said the FAA.
The investigation into this irregularity is “underway,” the agency said. This confirmation comes after the publication of a story in The New Yorker that reveals the incident.
The problem in the trajectory threatened to compromise the return to Earth phase, when the VSS Unity spacecraft, on which the two pilots, Branson and three other passengers were traveling, ended up floating until it landed on a runway in New Mexico.
A lit red light indicates a serious problem that could have a fatal consequence, the magazine explained. The aircraft surpassed 80 km in altitude, the point established in the United States for the space frontier, causing passengers to shift from their seats and float for a few minutes without gravity.
Citing unnamed sources within the company Branson founded, the magazine specified that the safest way to respond to these warnings would have been to stop the mission. The two pilots on board decided to continue the journey despite the lights, and the landing finally went smoothly.
“We dispute the descriptions and conclusions of the New Yorker article,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement to AFP. “When the vehicle was confronted with high altitude winds, which altered the trajectory, the pilots and systems monitored the trajectory to ensure that it was within the parameters of the mission”, detailed the company.
“Our pilots responded appropriately to these changes in flight conditions.” Neither the public nor the crew were in danger, Virgin Galactic argued. “Although the final trajectory deviated from our original plan, it was intentional and controlled,” he said.
One failure would have tarnished the image of Virgin Galactic, which invited the entire press and many renowned spectators — including tycoon Elon Musk, owner of automaker Tesla and aerospace spaceX — to this live-streamed event.
Branson, 70 years old, defeated the founder of the giant Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and his company for a few days. Blue Origin in a space race between billionaires.