Virgin Galactic cleared for further missions after FAA concludes probe

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic has been re-cleared for launch. The space travel company announced on September 29, 2021, that an inquiry by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) into deviations during the Unity 22 test flight has been concluded. 

The Unity 22 test flight on July 11, 2021, was the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including founder Richard Branson. 

During the flight, the Virgin Galactic spacecraft deviated from its planned trajectory during its descent back to Spaceport America, New Mexico. That put SpaceShipTwo spacecraft outside the protected airspace area for a total of one minute and 41 seconds.

The FAA grounded the company’s spaceflights pending the outcome of a probe into air traffic clearance control and real-time mission communications.

Virgin Galactic said in a statement on September 29, 2021, that corrective actions it proposed had been accepted by the FAA. 

The actions include updated calculations to expand the area of protected airspace for future flights. 

“Designating a larger area will ensure that Virgin Galactic has ample protected airspace for a variety of possible flight trajectories during spaceflight missions,” Virgin Galactic noted. 

The space company will also include more steps in its flight procedures to ensure real-time mission notifications to FAA air traffic control. 

“The updates to our airspace and real-time mission notification protocols will strengthen our preparations as we move closer to the commercial launch of our spaceflight experience,” chief executive Michael Colglazier commented in the statement. 

The company is now preparing for the Unity 23 mission with the Italian Air Force. However, it announced on September 10, 2021, that it was conducting inspections of its vehicles after a third-party supplier flagged a potential manufacturing defect in a component for the flight control actuation system. Virgin Galactic said the earliest flight window for Unity 23 would therefore be mid-October 2021.  

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