FAA clears Virgin Galactic to resume launches after incident investigation
Virgin Galactic VSS Unity passenger rocket plane begins ascent to the edge of space above Spaceport America
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday said it had closed its investigation into the incident with the launch of Virgin Galactic Unity 22 on July 11, which deviated from assigned airspace during descent, and lifted an arrest order imposed earlier by the regulator.
The FAA said Virgin Galactic has implemented the agency-requested changes to the way it communicates during the flight and the company will be allowed to resume operations.
The government investigation found that the Virgin Galactic vehicle had deviated from its assigned airspace during the descent from space and that the company had not communicated the deviation to the FAA as required.
The FAA said on September 2 that it had banned Virgin Galactic from flying its SpaceShipTwo pending completion of the report on the theft of the Virgin Galactic rocket plane that carried British billionaire Richard Branson aboard the space.
Virgin Galactic said earlier this month that it is planning another SpaceShipTwo flight from New Mexico, Unity 23, pending technical checks and weather. This flight is to carry three crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council, he added.
The company said on September 10 that it plans to “open its flight window for Unity 23 no earlier than mid-October.”
Virgin Galactic said the FAA accepted the corrective measures it was proposing. They include updated calculations to expand protected airspace for future flights and additional steps in company flight procedures to ensure real-time mission notifications to FAA air traffic control.
“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,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic .
Branson was one of six Virgin Galactic employees who took part in the July flight, soaring more than 80 miles above the New Mexico desert.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Bill Berkrot)