Virgin Galactic Flights Grounded Over Richard Branson's Spaceship 'Mishap'
The US Federal Aviation Administration cited the deviated course of Branson's flight as the cause of the suspension.
The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday, 2 September, grounded all space flights by Virgin Galactic, citing a mishap that occurred on board the billionaire Richard Branson's recent space voyage.
Branson had travelled to the edge of space – the first person to do so in his own spaceship – on 11 July.
The FAA's move spells trouble for the company, which on Thursday had announced its first commercial research mission in space, involving the Italian Air Force.
Why Have the Flights Been Grounded?
The FAA-imposed suspension comes after a New Yorker magazine report indicated that Branson's spaceship had transcended the boundaries of the airspace permitted, as it veered off course.
The New Yorker report had stated that the pilots had received first a yellow and then a red warning that the ascent of the spaceship was too shallow, and asserted that the safest response would have been the abortion the flight.
What the FAA Has Said
The government regulator on Thursday stated, "The FAA is overseeing the Virgin Galactic investigation of its July 11 SpaceShipTwo mishap that occurred over Spaceport America, New Mexico."
"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 agency was quoted as saying by BBC.
What Virgin Galactic Has Said
Virgin Galactic stated that while the Unity spaceship had digressed from its original trajectory, the deviation was intentional, and that it had posed no risk to the passengers, crew, or the public.
"Although the flight's ultimate trajectory deviated from our initial plan, it was a controlled and intentional flight path that allowed Unity to successfully reach space and land safely at our spaceport in New Mexico," a company spokesperson told the BBC.
The Branson-owned space travel company further said that it was co-operating fully with the FAA investigation, and that it was working towards the prevention of deviations on future missions.
Richard Branson's Flight to Space
Billionaire Richard Branson, on 11 July, returned to Spaceport America in New Mexico after successfully venturing into space on his Virgin Galactic vessel.
“The whole thing... it was just magical,” the 71-year-old business magnate said during a live feed from the spacecraft as it made its way back to the Earth.
The galactic vessel, which reached a height of 86 km over the New Mexico desert, enabled the passengers to view the curvature of the Earth and experience a few minutes of weightlessness.
(With inputs from BBC and New Yorker.)
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