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Virgin Galactic aborted its first attempt at human spaceflight after the VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo’s onboard computer lost connection.
Less than an hour after Saturday’s launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico, Unity was released from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier and lit its engine. But one second into firing, the mission was aborted; pilots CJ Sturckow and David Mackay successfully returned the ship to Earth unscathed.
The whole ordeal was captured on a two-hour livestream by NASASpaceflight.com:
“[Saturday’s] flight landed beautifully, with pilots, planes, and spaceship safe, secure, and in excellent shape—the foundation of every successful mission. Our flight … did not reach space as we had been planning,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a tweeted statement.
“After being released from its mothership, SpaceShipTwo Unity’s onboard computer that monitors the rocket motor lost connection. As designed, this triggered a fail-safe scenario that intentionally halted ignition of the rocket motor,” he explained. “Following this occurrence, our pilots flew back to Spaceport America and landed gracefully as usual.”
This is a real blow to Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflight preparations—previously paused in response to New Mexico’s COVID-19 state guidelines. The weekend’s flight aimed to “fulfill a number of objectives,” according to a recent company statement, including testing elements of the customer cabin and assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls.
There is no word on when the firm will schedule its next attempt. Virgin Galactic must first conduct a data review to better understand what went wrong on Saturday.
“As we do with every test flight, we are evaluating all the data, including the root cause assessment of the computer communication loss,” Colglazier said. “We look forward to sharing information on our next flight window in the near future.”
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