Virgin Galactic reported a hardware problem during its most recent manned space tourism flight, on the 26th of last month. The company founded by Richard Branson made the announcement this Monday (5).
A pin used to align the VSS Unity spaceplane and its carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, while the two vehicles are coupled on the ground ended up coming loose during flight. The part, according to the company, did not support the weight of the VSS Unity during the climb to altitude.
The failure, however, did not jeopardize the safety of either the vehicles or the crew on board, according to Virgin Galactic.
The cause of the problem was not revealed. The Branson company only said that the pin came loose after the VSS Unity had been positioned and, as a result, was no longer useful.
The failure was identified during routine post-flight checks and the FAA, the United States federal aviation agency, was notified on January 31st. The agency, which is investigating the episode, stated in a statement that no one was injured and there was no damage to public property.
Virgin Galactic’s Jan. 26 flight was the first time the company sent four tourists into space without an astronaut acting as support crew.
Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceflight operations began last year, after nearly two decades of development. Since then, the company has counted six tourist and research flights that have taken customers to the edge of space and back.
The company has faced some flight accidents over the years.
On a flight with Branson into space in 2021, the spacecraft deviated from its planned route, which later resulted in an FAA-supervised investigation.
Previously, in 2014, a spacecraft crashed when its wings moved prematurely during flight, causing the death of one test pilot and injuring another.
With the latest failure, Virgin Galactic will confirm the schedule for its next mission — currently expected to launch between April and June — after FAA review.
The review comes amid increased scrutiny from the FAA and the aerospace industry in the wake of fallout from manufacturing problems with Boeing’s 737 Max 9 jets.
However, the FAA is prohibited from imposing safety standards on commercial spacecraft that transport humans to space — this legislative moratorium is scheduled to expire on March 8.