Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic CEO, flew high into the upper atmosphere aboard his Unity rocket plane in July. This event was celebrated as the first billionaire CEO to do so, despite not being able to reach the international agreed upon space edge.
The views were breathtaking, but the flight suffered a serious glitch that was only discovered two months later.
Nicholas Schmidle, a reporter for The New Yorker, explained that the crew aboard Virgin Galactics VSS Unicorn spacecraft were alerted by a red light on their console.
It was terrible news. It flew for nearly a minute and 42 seconds outside of the Federal Aviation Administration's airspace.
This is a clear illustration of the dangers involved in going into near-space on a private spacecraft. It also shows how the operator will likely keep any unplanned deviations to the mission under wraps to avoid the negative publicity.
According to Schmidles, the red light indicated that the pilots should cut the engines as safe as possible. This could have prevented Bransons victory flight and allowed rival Jeff Bezos into space.
Instead, they decided to continue shooting it towards space at three times speed of sound, trying to adjust the trajectory to allow for safe glide return to the runway.
Schmidle was told by Julys Flight pilots during a 2015 meeting that a yellow light should be frightening because it will turn red too soon. "
Worse, Virgin Galactic did not acknowledge the incident to FAA, according to a spokesperson to The New Yorker.
The red light was not the only warning sign. According to the report, Mark Forger Stucky, Virgin Galactics' lead test pilot and flight director, was removed from his duties and exempted from planning for Julys flight. This occurred after Schmidles book Test Gods, which was published in May.
Stucky warned repeatedly about the need to protect the integrity of the program. He claimed that the team was understaffed and overworked in an email Schmidle received in 2017.
Eight days after Bransons flight a HR manager fired Stucky to make room for Zoom.
According to Schmidle's statement, July 11s was a successful and safe test flight. It adhered to our flight protocols and training protocols. Schmidle also noted that the trajectories were within mission parameters.
The flight's final trajectory was slightly different from the original plan. However, Unity 22 flew within the lateral limits of the protected airspace. This is according to the company in a statement sent to Ars Technica. The ship did not travel over any areas of population or pose a danger to the public at any time.
READ MORE: The Red Warning Light on Richard Bransons Space Flight [The New Yorker]
Richard Branson did not go to space yesterday, he just cruised through the upper atmosphere