Virgin Galactic gets FAA clearance to resume space flights

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The US aviation authority has given Virgin Galactic the green light to resume space flights. The FAA withdrew its permission after the company failed to report a flight in July that it had drifted outside its designated airspace.

The Unity 22 mission’s spacecraft moved out of its designated airspace due to an “entry glide-cone warning,” the FAA said in September. On take-off, the aircraft would not have flown vertically enough, causing it to get stuck on return and landing.

The Federal Aviation Administration only reports in a statement, seen by Reuters, among others, that Virgin Galactic ships now have more extensive systems to make more and faster relevant reports to the FAA. Those were proposals from Virgin Galactic, which the FAA agreed to.

The expanded airspace will be the result of ‘updated calculations’ on the part of the company. For example, there must be ‘sufficient airspace for various possible flight paths’. Virgin said the improved notifications to the FAA are “additional steps to ensure the company can send real-time mission notifications to the FAA.”

During the Unity 22 mission, a Virgin Galactic spaceship with six people on board flew to an altitude of about 86 kilometers. During the suborbital spaceflight, the two pilots and four passengers experienced about four minutes of weightlessness, after which the spacecraft returned to New Mexico.

In the meantime, work is also continuing on Unity 23. Sometime in mid-October, that spaceship should take off. There will be three Italians on board, from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council. They pay for the flight. At the same time, the effects of the transition from a gravitational environment to one with reduced gravity will be examined. A component problem delayed Unity 23, preventing it from being affected by the FAA’s temporary flight ban.

The crew of the Unity 22 mission and VSS Unity in flight. Source: Virgin Galactic