The FAA announced on September 29 that it had concluded its investigation into an issue on Virgin Galactic’s most recent SpaceShipTwo mission, permitting the business to resume suborbital spaceplane flights. The FAA determined that SpaceShipTwo departed from its allocated airspace on its July 11 trip, which brought six people to an elevation of over 80 kilometers, including the founder of the company Richard Branson. The firm also failed to notify the FAA of the deviation.
“To keep the public safe, the FAA asked Virgin Galactic to make modifications to how it communicates with the FAA during flight operations,” the FAA ended in a brief statement. “Virgin Galactic has completed the necessary improvements and is ready to resume flight operations.”
When asked about the adjustments, an FAA spokeswoman responded to Virgin Galactic’s statement. According to the corporation, new estimates to widen the protected area during SpaceShipTwo flights are among the business’s corrective measures. According to Virgin Galactic, “designating a broader region would ensure that Virgin Galactic has adequate protected airspace for a variety of probable flight trajectories during spaceflight missions.”
Virgin Galactic also stated that it would alter its flight procedures in order to “ensure real-time mission alerts to the FAA Air Traffic Control.” Virgin Galactic’s chief executive, Michael Colglazier, said in a statement, “We appreciate the FAA’s careful consideration of this inquiry.” “As we get closer to the commercial deployment of our spaceflight experience, the changes to the airspace and real-time operation notification systems will reinforce our preparations.”
Neither Virgin Galactic nor FAA provided any additional information on the incident during the July flight, dubbed “Unity 22” by the business, which sparked the investigation. The FAA announced the probe on September 2, a day after The New Yorker published an article revealing that the aircraft’s pilots ignored an “entry glide cone” warning during its rocket-propelled ascent, signaling that the vehicle really wasn’t climbing sharply enough. SpaceShipTwo was outside of the volume of the airspace where it may safely fly back to a runway at the Spaceport America, situated in New Mexico, according to the notice.
SpaceShipTwo returned to the runway without issue, and company officials did not mention the warning or any other issues with the trip after the landing. However, during its descent, the vehicle was able to fly outside of its allocated airspace, which the firm acknowledged following The New Yorker piece and blamed on severe winds at higher elevations.
While the FAA inquiry was ongoing, Virgin Galactic announced that it was investigating a possible manufacturing problem in a component of the vehicle’s flight control actuation system. According to the business at the time, the problem had nothing to do with the occurrence on the July trip that prompted the FAA investigation.