The Federal Aviation Administration or FAA has grounded Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle until it completes an investigation into a previous spaceflight mishap.
The aviation regulator is investigating the recent mission of the spacecraft, called the Unity 22, carrying Virgin Galactic founder and billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, as well as three Virgin Galactic employees.
As the flight returned to the ground on July 11, the vehicle shifted out of its planned trajectory and dropped below its permitted altitude.
The FAA is now investigating the reasons behind the issue during the Unity 22 flight.
The aviation agency said in a statement, “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.”
Responding to the FAA’s announcement, Virgin Galactic, which already announced its next spaceflight plan, stated that the company is working in partnership with the FAA in its investigation to address the short time that the spaceship dropped below its permitted altitude.
The company said it takes the matter seriously and is currently addressing the causes of the issue and determining how to prevent this from occurring on future missions.
Virgin Galactic recently announced the manifest for the next rocket-powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity from Spaceport America, which would be its first commercial, human-tended research mission. The company then said it was targeting a flight window in late September or early October 2021, pending technical checks and weather.
The “Unity 23” mission would be the 23rd flight for VSS Unity and would carry three paying crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council.
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