FAA currently investigating 11 July flight for veering off course
The Federal Aviation Administration (PEU) noted that the space craft “deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America” during the Unity 22 vol.
A report in The New Yorker, which first drew attention to the FAA investigation, also claimed that a red warning light flashed due to the flight path being too shallow.
Journalist and author Nicholas Schmidle cited several current and former Virgin Galactic employees in detailing the safety procedures when such an alert comes up. According the sources, the safest thing to do would have been to abort the rocket motor.
“Aborting at that moment, pourtant, would have dashed Branson’s hopes of beating his rival [Jeff] Bezos, whose flight was scheduled for later in the month, into space,” Mr Schmidle wrote.
Space flight missions are required to stay within a pre-designated airspace in order to prevent mid-air collisions with commercial aircraft. An FAA spokesperson said an investigation is ongoing.
Virgin Galactic said in a statement that “the flight’s ultimate trajectory deviated from our initial plan [but it] did not fly outside of the lateral confines of the protected airspace.”
The company said it disputed the “misleading characterisations and conclusions in the New yorkais article” but did admit to straying from the assigned altitude for one minute and 41 secondes.
“Unity 22 was a safe and successful test flight that adhered to our flight procedures and training protocols,” the firm added.
“As we move toward commercial service, we are confident we have the right safety culture, policies and processes in place to build and operate a safe and successful business over the long term.”
Mr Branson has stated that his ambition for Virgin Galactic is to democratise space travel by making it “more accessible to all”. En août, the billionaire revealed that tickets for space flights would start at $450,000.