FAA Grounds Virgin Galactic Flights During Investigation into Richard Branson’s Flight to Space

by Chris Haney

On Thursday, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) temporarily grounded billionaire Sir Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic from sending more flights into space. The agency recently began an investigation into a flight mishap stemming from Virgin’s original July 11 launch.

As of now, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is barred from further launches, according to a Reuters report. The FAA must approve its final mishap investigation report or determine that the spacecraft’s issues will not affect public safety. Earlier in the week, the agency confirmed a deviation in the July 11 flight as it returned to earth. The FAA revealed that “SpaceShipTwo deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America.”

Virgin Galactic recently responded to the FAA statement. Richard Branson’s space flight company said it is “addressing the causes of the issue and determining how to prevent this from occurring on future missions.” Branson himself, along with other crew members, were aboard the July 11 flight that went to the edge of space. Virgin Galactic’s response continued by stating that “at no time were passengers and crew put in any danger.” The company added that it’s “working closely with the FAA” in support of the agency’s thorough review.

Branson’s company did admit that the “flight did drop below the altitude of the airspace.” It dropped for a short distance that lasted about 1 minute and 41 seconds. On Wednesday, Virgin Galactic announced new plans for SpaceShipTwo’s next flight. They want to launch another space flight from New Mexico in late September or early October. Of course, the flight is pending weather complications, and any further technical difficulties.

Richard Branson’s Highly-Anticipated Virgin Galactic Flight to Space Delayed

Richard Branson was one of six Virgin Galactic employees who took flight to space in July. The crew flew more than 50 miles above the New Mexico desert before returning safely to earth. Branson’s goal for Virgin Galactic is to bring in a new era of space tourism. The company he founded in 2004 is hoping to begin commercial space flights in 2022.

However, Branson’s groundbreaking space flight wasn’t immune from a bit of drama. The initial July 11 flight was originally planned for an early Sunday morning launch. But the company was forced to delay its launch plans due to inclement weather, which added a few hiccups to their schedule.

Sir Richard Branson and his crew scheduled their first launch for 9 a.m. EST. Yet the inclement weather set their plans back by an hour and a half. Virgin Galactic posted a clip on Twitter that morning as final preparations got underway. Eventually, the weather let up, and Branson’s historic flight commenced.

“It’s a beautiful day to go to space. Richard Branson and the #Unity22 crew have arrived at @Spaceport_NM in New Mexico,” the account wrote.