Virgin Galactic Aims for First Commercial Flight This Fall, FAA Might Rain on Its Parade

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On September 2nd, Virgin Galactic has released the manifest for SpaceShipTwo Unity’s next rocket-powered test flight, which will be the company’s first commercial, human-tended research mission. However, on the same day, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it has grounded the company’s flights as it is investigating problems with Richard Branson’s flight to the edge of space.

This will be VSS Unity’s first commercial trip, with three paying crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council. The mission’s purpose is to assess the effects of the transitional phase from gravity to microgravity on the human body.

Other payloads onboard will investigate the influence of microgravity on a variety of chemical and physical attributes. The mission’s goal is to gain insight into current and future spaceflight systems and technologies by testing and evaluating different responses in sub-orbital flights.

The company says that it plans to have its first commercial flight in late September or early October, but we have yet to see it actually happen. Currently, the FAA is investigating Virgin Galactic’s July 11th crewed flight.

The flight to the edge of space seemed to have gone accordingly. The crew, together with billionaire Richard Branson, have reached an altitude of 50 miles (80 km) and, after a few minutes in zero-G, they all returned back to Earth safely.

However, a report from the New Yorker released on Wednesday, September 1st, has uncovered that the “SpaceShipTwo deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America.”

In a statement to Reuters, FAA concluded the next day that “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.”

So, until further notice, we’ll just have to wait and see how things will progress with Richard Branson’s commercial flights.