The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made an announcement on Thursday, that it is grounding the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo from further flights while it investigates why the flight carrying CEO Richard Branson deviated unexpectedly from its flight path.
The 11 July test flight with Branson and five Virgin Galactic employees dropped below its protected airspace for one minute and 41 seconds during its descent back to the runway in the New Mexico dessert.
This deviation placed the spaceflight outside the area where air traffic control had granted clearance.
In a statement, the FAA said that, “Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety.”
Virgin Galactic said that while the 11 July was “a safe and successful test flight that adhered to our flight procedures and training protocols,” the company had to cushion the FAA’s decision based on the flight path deviation.
“At no time were passengers and crew put in any danger as a result of this change in trajectory,” Virgin Galactic said in the statement.
The ban on fresh flight for SpaceShipTwo comes just as Virgin Galactic announced plans to launch a new flight in a few weeks’ time with a team from Italy on board.However, on Thursday the company went to some lengths to insist Branson and the others were never in danger.
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