Richard Branson’s space plane will resume operation after the vehicle was grounded by the US Federal Aviation Administration after it did an investigation into the mission that first saw its major trip to the edge of space back in July.
With that, the Virgin Galactic left the airspace for a period before being granted another chance.
The FAA says Virgin Galactic “has made the required changes” to its operations and can now return to flight.
The Unity spaceplane will therefore be able to make another space mission this year and it is organized for the Italian Air Force and then it will go through an extended period of maintenance and upgrades afterwards.
By the year 2022, the company is then expected to start routine flights for private passengers who can afford them.
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Aboard the first test mission was the company’s executive Richard Branson back on July 11th making him the first businessman to pull such stunt before American business owner and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos did the same just a week later.
The mission that took Branson above earth’s atmosphere got the spaceplane to a height of about 86km (53 miles) above the New Mexico desert which is an altitude that is considered to be “in space” by the US government.
Details about the flight were later reported by the New Yorker which led to the FAA declaring a “mishap investigation”.
The magazine’s article described how Unity, on its glide descent back to its New Mexico spaceport, had flown outside the zone restricted for the plane’s use. What’s more, Galactic had failed to inform the FAA that this had happened.
The company eventually acknowledged the glide path deviated from the planned one but stated that was due to unexpected high winds on Unity’s ascent which however pushed the spaceplane slightly off course.
But Galactic stressed that at no time was anyone put in danger, onboard or on the ground.
Clearing Unity to go fly again, the FAA issued a statement on Wednesday, saying: “The investigation found the Virgin Galactic [Unity] vehicle deviated from its assigned airspace on its descent from space.
“The FAA also found Virgin Galactic failed to communicate the deviation to the FAA as required. Virgin Galactic was not allowed to conduct flight operations as the investigation was ongoing.
“The FAA required Virgin Galactic to implement changes on how it communicates to the FAA during flight operations to keep the public safe. Virgin Galactic has made the required changes and can return to flight operations.”
The space company stated that it would request a larger volume of restricted airspace in the future in order to conduct its activities and was also updating its flight procedures “to ensure real-time mission notifications to FAA Air Traffic Control”.
Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier added: “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.”
All that being said, it’s obvious that the company is slowly but surely moving to the stage where it can routinely fly space tourists as report has it that about 600 individuals have paid for seat tickets which cost about US$200k and US$250k with ticket sales resuming back in August with price hike doubling to US$450k
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