richard branson virgin galactic

Virgin Galactic delays commercial space travel service after FAA investigation

Image credit: reuters

Virgin Galactic has delayed its first commercial service for space tourists until the last quarter of 2022 and does not plan to conduct another test flight this year.

The Sir Richard Branson-owned firm has faced a number of hurdles in trying to launch a commercial service, with repeated delays over the years.

The firm launched Branson and five other passengers into space in July this year on its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity.

While this flight was a success, US regulators were concerned that the spaceship deviated from its intended path on its return to Earth. This meant that SpaceShipTwo was temporarily barred from flight while an investigation was conducted. On 29 September, the Federal Aviation Administration closed its investigation into the launch and lifted a grounding order it had imposed.

But Virgin has still opted not to continue with another proposed test flight of SpaceShipTwo which was expected to take place as early as mid-October this year.

This follows a statement from the company yesterday that a recent laboratory-based test “flagged a possible reduction in the strength margins of certain materials used to modify specific joints.”

It will therefore continue with the “enhancement program” for its aircraft that is designed to improve vehicle performance and flight-rate capability. The program includes a series of routine tests and analyses that will help Virgin Galactic to predict how materials are expected to perform under certain load and environmental conditions and is used to inform the design and manufacturing enhancements “that will support increased flight frequency”.

It said its aircraft are designed to withstand forces that are “substantially higher” than those experienced with regular use in order to improve the margin of safety.

Blue Origin, the Jeff Bezos-owned firm that also plans to introduce space tourism to the mega-rich, has had its fair share of controversies in recent weeks. As well as launching a lawsuit against Nasa after the Agency rejected its bid to provide it with a lunar lander, 21 Blue Origin employees recently signed an open letter that described the workplace culture as ‘sexist and toxic’.


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