FAA grounds Virgin Galactic spacecraft while mishap investigation proceeds

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has barred Virgin Galactic from flying its SpaceShipTwo while it investigates a mishap report from its July mission carrying Richard Branson. 

In particular, the FAA is looking into why the Virgin Galactic spacecraft deviated from its planned trajectory in its descent back to Spaceport America, New Mexico. The deviation put the spacecraft outside the air traffic control clearance area. 

“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,” the FAA said. The agency is responsible for protecting the public during commercial space transportation launch and re-entry.

Virgin Galactic acknowledged that the SpaceShipTwo dropped below the protected airspace for a total of one minute and 41 seconds. The company said that high-altitude winds caused the change in flight path and that the passengers and crew were not exposed to any danger following the trajectory change. 

Coincidentally, on September 2, 2021, Virgin Galactic announced the details of their next Unity flight, a research outing for the Italian Air Force.

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