Virgin Galactic on Saturday afternoon aborted a crewed test flight of a rocket-powered spaceship from a New Mexico spaceport. Eastern, the company announced on Twitter. But as it went up into the sky, the mission was suddenly aborted due to engine failure, and the two pilots had no choice but to glide down back to the ground.
CEO Michael Colglazier said the company has reduced its number of staff onsite at its headquarters at Spaceport America in accordance with state mandates and that only spaceport staff critical to the mission will be present.
Looking for the positives, chief executive officer Michael Colglazier said the system is "purposely created to enable our pilots to safely glide back to the Spaceport at any point during the flight profile".
After delays due to the coronavirus pandemic and some dicey weather earlier this week, the crew had been cleared for a morning launch amid clear conditions.
Those customers can not fly until VSS Unity finishes its test campaign.
It added later: "We have several motors ready at Spaceport America".
The company already has its first 600 passengers lined up.
The suborbital flights are created to reach an altitude of at least 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) before the rocket motor is turned off and the crew prepares to reenter the atmosphere and glide to a landing.
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Thus, unable to reach space, test pilots CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay had to abort the flight and land. In order to experience this flight at an altitude of over 60 miles above the Earth, passengers must pay $250,000 a ticket.
In addition to flying people, SpaceShipTwo has been flying scientific payloads for a NASA-supported suborbital space research program.
They will then evaluate all the hardware, settings and which angles will offer the best views.
When Virgin Galactic was founded, private space travel seemed like more of a far-off novelty, but Branson is in good company. Last year, Virgin Galactic moved its base of operations to the New Mexico spaceport, where it's been testing the rocket, the mother ship and all related infrastructure in preparation for commercial launch.
SpaceShipTwo is expected to take its first passengers into space in 2021. In the weeks leading up to Saturday's first powered test flight, the company's stock soared from about $17 per share in late October to almost $34 December 7.
"In the months leading up to this flight, our engineering and maintenance teams have been working hard to prepare both our mothership, VMS Eve, and SpaceShipTwo Unity for the flight", Sturckow said in a recent blog post.
The flight of Unity was meant to gather crucial test data needed to advance its commercial spaceflight license with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration before flying customers for the first time next year.