Remember that story we posted earlier today about Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight scheduled to launch in September?
We may have spoken too soon. This afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration said it was grounding all Virgin Galactic flights until further notice, pending the results of the investigation into the company’s July 11 crewed flight.
“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.”
While the July 11 mission was completed with no injuries to staff or crew, including the company’s billionaire founder Richard Branson, it was recently uncovered that the spaceplane deviated its trajectory outside of cleared airspace. During flight, a red warning light came on the spaceplane’s dashboard, indicating that it went off its planned trajectory. The spaceplane flew off-course for a total of 1 minute and 41 seconds, the FAA said. The deviation was first reported by The New Yorker.
The regulator went on to add: “The FAA is responsible for protecting the public during commercial space transportation launch and reentry operations. The FAA is overseeing the Virgin Galactic investigation of its July 11 SpaceShipTwo mishap that occurred over Spaceport America, New Mexico. SpaceShipTwo deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America.”
Depending on whether the investigation is complete – and what it finds – that first commercial flight in September may stay stuck on the ground. That flight is supposed to send members of the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council to the edges of space, in order to study the effects on transitioning to microgravity on the human body. But until then, Richard Branson’s supersonic company has to stay grounded.