The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has cleared Virgin Galactic to fly again following an anomaly on its previous flight, according to the Wall Street Journal. After the space company’s first crewed flight deviated from its approved trajectory, the agency launched an investigation.
The FAA determined that the SpaceShip Two Unity craft, which was carrying founder Richard Branson and five others, deviated from its assigned airspace for a minute and 41 seconds and failed to report the error as required.
It did, however, accept Virgin Galactic’s proposal to expand the protected airspace to accommodate a broader range of possible flight paths and to communicate with air traffic control in real-time during flights.
“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,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier recently said in a statement.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) September 29, 2021
According to the New Yorker, near the end of the powered flight, pilots saw a “red light” warning indicating that the spacecraft had veered outside its entry glide cone, putting it at risk of an emergency landing.
The deviation was caused by high altitude winds, according to Virgin Galactic, and the craft did not fly outside the lateral confines of its protected airspace. “At no time did the ship travel above any population centres or pose a public safety risk,” a spokesperson said.
Virgin Galactic may fly its next mission in mid-October, possibly with members of the Italian Air Force, now that it has a flight clearance. Following that, the company previously stated that both the current SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo host aircraft would be upgraded for four months.