Company says it is taking probe ‘seriously’ after not revealing the issues in two months since flight
Officials at the FAA are looking into why the craft veered out of its approved airspace on its descent toward land after the July launch with Mr Branson as part of the crew.
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,” an FAA spokesperson said in a statement.
The investigation was launched because the pilots of the craft had been alerted to red and yellow warning lights during their rocket-powered flight into space after being dropped from its mothership, selon le New yorkais.
The lights indicated that the spaceplane was not climbing vertically enough to free-glide back to earth with enough momentum to land and it is claimed the craft veered out of its Air Traffic Control airspace as it returned.
And sources told the magazine that the flight, which ultimately landed safely after reaching an altitude of 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, should have been aborted after the warning lights went off in the cockpit.
The July flight saw Mr Branson achieve his dream of spaceflight and in the process he beat rival Jeff Bezos, after moving up his flight to get ahead of the Amazon founder and his Blue Origin rocket, which flew later that month.
Virgin Galactic, which Mr Branson founded in 2004, said on Wednesday that the active FAA investigation “has no impact on future test flights.”
The company released a second statement on the matter on Thursday.
“We take this seriously and are currently addressing the causes of the issue and determining how to prevent this from occurring on future missions,” a Virgin Galactic spokesperson said.
“We have been working closely with the FAA to support a thorough review and timely resolution of this issue.”
The company’s Unity 23 flight is due to carry three members of the Italian Air Force as their first paying customers next month.
After returning to Earth safely, Mr Branson swigged champagne from a bottle and there was a concert by Khalid, but Virgin Galactic made no mention of warning lights going off or of the craft flying out of its approved airspace.
In August the company announced that it was increasing ticket prices by $200,000 à $450,000 for a seat on a Virgin Galactic flight.
Environ 600 people already hold tickets that they bought at the lower price in an earlier round of sales.