On Wednesday, September 29th, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave Virgin Galactic the green light to resume its activity, just in time for the company’s next spaceflight. The news comes after the FAA grounded Virgin Galactic’s flights due to issues that surfaced concerning the company’s July flight.
On July 11th, Virgin Galatic took off from Spaceport America, New Mexico, with its founder Richard Brandson on board and five other passengers. Called Unity 22, the mission carried Branson and his crew 50 miles (80 kilometers) up. After a few minutes of experienciencing zero-G, the SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane began its descend to Earth, landing safely back at Spaceport America.
While everything seemed to have gone accordingly, on September 1st, a report from the New Yorker uncovered that Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo strayed off from its Air Traffic Control clearance during the company’s first commercial flight to the edge of space. Not only that, but it also failed to communicate the deviation with the FAA.
Now, following a thorough investigation, the agency allowed the company to resume its flights.
“We appreciate the FAA’s thorough review of this inquiry. Our test flight program is specifically designed to continually improve our processes and procedures. 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,” said Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic.
For its next flight, Virgin Galactic will carry three paying crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council. The mission’s goal is to assess the effects of the transitional phase from gravity to microgravity on the human body.
Earlier this month, the company stated that “the earliest it expects to open its flight window for Unity 23 is mid October.” We’ll have yet to see if Virgin Galactic will stick to its announced plans.