FAA opens probe into anomaly on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceflight – TechCrunch

Federal Aviation Administration is investigating an anomaly in the Virgin Galactic flight which carried Richard Branson into space. The New Yorker discussed not only that flight, but also the company's safety issues over the years. The New Yorker reported that Virgin Galactic's spacecraft was off-course while descending, prompting an entry glide cone warning. This simulates water circling down a drain for landing. The alarm was raised because the pilots didn't fly as steeply as they should, according to the New Yorker.
A spokesperson for the FAA confirmed to Reuters that the vehicle violated its Air Traffic Control clearance when it returned to Spaceport America. The FAA is investigating the incident. To prevent commercial plane collisions and minimize civilian casualties, the agency provides designated airspace for missions to space. Virgins Unity 22 mission flew for one minute and forty-one seconds out of the designated airspace before pilots were able correct their course.

Nicholas Schmidle, the author of The New Yorker's piece, stated that he attended a meeting where the same pilots who were on the Unity 22 flight warned that a red light entry glide cone warning should be frightening. It is best to abandon the flight. Virgin Galactic stated that it disagrees with the article's misleading conclusions and characterizations. It also said that people on the flight were not in danger because of the flight deviation. According to the company:

The vehicle was subject to high altitude winds that changed its trajectory. Pilots and systems monitored it closely to make sure it was within the mission parameters. The pilots responded to changing conditions in the same way they were trained, and in compliance with our established procedures. Although the flight's final trajectory was not in accordance with our original plan, it was an intentional and controlled flight path that enabled Unity 22 to reach space and land safely at New Mexico's Spaceport. This change in trajectory did not result in passengers or crew being in danger.

The company also stated that the spacecraft didn't fly beyond the lateral limits of missions protected airspace. However, it did fall below the altitude in the airspace it was given. It stated that it was working with the FAA in order to resolve the issue of airspace for future flights.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

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