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The FAA grounds the Virgin Galactic space shuttle, awaiting investigation into the July 11 flight


Richard Branson flew to Space on July 11, 2021 shortly after.

Richard Branson flew to Space on July 11, 2021 shortly after.
picture: Susan Montoya Bryan (Associated Press)

Virgin Galactic must keep its space shuttle on the ground until the Federal Aviation Administration completes its investigation of the problems that occurred during Richard Branson’s historic Space Edge flight in July.

TonThe FAA statement, Report Reuters, clear, concise, and not entirely surprising.

“Until the FAA approves the final accident investigation report or determines that the accident-related issues do not affect public safety, Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo launch vehicle to flight.”

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Virgin Galactic’s two SpaceShipTwo space planes were grounded on the second day of the publication of The New Yorker Shocking article Explain in detail the problems that occurred on the flight of the billionaire founder on July 11 Branson flew to an altitude of 53 miles (86 kilometers) with three other passengers and two pilots. A bit like Meet the conditions of “space”.

The grounding of SpaceShipTwo means a reservation Flights later this month, where VSS Unite The members of the Italian Air Force were supposed to be transported to suborbital space, and it may not happen.Grounding also deprived most of the brilliance of Virgin Galactic’s space tourism products, which will Toll USD 450,000 per seat.

VSS Unity in the combustion phase of the mission engine on July 11, 2021.

VSS Unity in the combustion phase of the mission engine on July 11, 2021.
picture: Virgin Galactic

indeed, Unity 22 flightSo far, as far as we know, it seems to be proceeding exactly as planned, but as the New Yorker article reveals, the pilots David McKay and Mike Masucci ignored the warning lights during the ascent. Specifically, the pilot canceled the “entry down cone warning”, which indicated that the VSS Unite The climb was not steep enough, and the space plane did not have enough energy to slide back to the designated runway of the U.S. Spaceport in New Mexico.

By flying out of this cone of space, the space shuttle deviated from the airspace specified by the mission, with a flight time of 1 minute and 41 seconds. For the FAA, which enforces these rules, this is a big no-no.

The New Yorker article suggests that pilots should abort the mission when the warning light comes on. The warning should be like the frustrating Monopoly card: Go straight to the runway prison, do not enter the orbital space, and do not collect $200.However, if the pilot does this, Richard Branson may not be the first billionaire to reach space-especially considering that the Blue Origin realized Jeff Bezos identical It was done in a few weeks. However, the pilot did not suspend the mission, but allowed VSS UniteThe engine runs at full speed within the required one minute.

I contacted Virgin Galactic to learn about the company’s views on the matter and the ongoing FAA investigation.

A company spokesperson explained in an email: “As we said before, we are working with the FAA to solve the problem of the spacecraft falling below the allowable altitude for a short time during the Unity 22 flight.” “We take this seriously. One point, the cause of the problem is currently being resolved and how to prevent this from happening in future missions.”

The spokesperson admitted that the flight trajectory did not proceed as planned, but the “controlled and intentional flight path” was allowed to VSS Unite Arrived in space and landed at the company’s spaceport in New Mexico.

The spokesperson said: “Passengers and crew have never been in any danger due to this trajectory change, and the ship has never sailed over any population center or caused harm to the public,” the spokesperson added, Federal Aviation Bureau representatives “appear in our control room during and after the flight report.”

In an email sent to Gizmodo yesterday, Virgin Galactic claimed that the strong wind was the cause of the change in trajectory, and that “the pilot and the system monitored the trajectory to ensure it stayed within the mission parameters.”

Mark Starkey, the former flight test director of Virgin Galactic, claimed that this was nonsense. “The fact is that the pilots failed to trim to achieve the proper pitch rate, the wind was within the limits, they did not take any substantial measures to resolve the trajectory error, and entered the Class A airspace without authorization,” as he said Tweet September 1. Shortly after the Unity 22 mission ended, Stucky was fired after publicly expressing concerns about Virgin Galactic’s security practices.

Now we are anxiously awaiting the results of the FAA’s investigation. But I have to think that the FAA may not like pilots blowing the warning lights and risking them to leave the airspace. Virgin Galactic’s bringing paying customers to the edge of space may also affect the FAA’s investigation.As for the future of this space tourism service, this incident, subsequent investigations, and claims that Virgin Galactic’s safety culture is deteriorating mean Paying customers may have to think twice when riding a spacecraft built by Richard Branson.

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