Virgin Galactic’s Test Flight Fails to Reach Space
Virgin Galactic’s first test flight with crew of its SpaceShipTwo Unity aircraft from Spaceport America in New Mexico has not reached the limit of space. The test flight, which took place on Saturday, December 13th, was supposed to be a test of the vehicle that will eventually carry the first space tourists on suborbital space flights.
The vehicle was lifted up by the airline WhiteKnightTwo and released as planned. Then witnesses report that the SpaceShipTwo Unity’s engines only fired for a second before being shut off. Fortunately, the pilots were able to maintain control of the vehicle and land it safely and no one was injured. The video of the test was recorded by NASASpaceflight.
“The firing sequence for the rocket motor was not completed,” confirmed the company on Twitter. It also said: “The vehicle and crew are in excellent shape. We have several engines ready at Spaceport America. We will check the vehicle and fly again soon. “
Virgin Galactic later said they would conduct an evaluation of the data from the test flight and investigate the cause of the problem related to the loss of computer communication.
In a follow-up statement on Twitter, CEO Michael Colglazier said: “Today’s flight did not reach the room as we had planned. After being released from the mothership, SpaceShipTwo Unity’s on-board computer, which monitors the rocket motor, lost connection. This triggered a fail-safe scenario, as planned, where the rocket motor was deliberately stopped igniting. “He also praised his pilots for the perfect landing of the vehicle under the difficult circumstances.
One of the safety systems in the aircraft is a system that allows pilots to safely slide the aircraft back on land in the event of such an engine problem. This enabled pilots Dave Mackay and CJ Sturckow to land even with no apparent engine power.
Problems like this are part of testing, but it remains to be seen how risk tolerant private space tourists will be towards this type of problem. Hundreds of customers have already paid for flights on Virgin Galactic flights, but the coronavirus pandemic has seen a number of delays in testing and rolling out space tourism.