SpaceShipTwo Unity is seen shortly after landing in New Mexico on Saturday.
Enlarge / SpaceShipTwo Unity is seen shortly after touchdown in New Mexico on Saturday.

Virgin Galactic

On Saturday, almost two full years after its final powered flight, Virgin Galactic tried to ship its smooth Area Ship Two house airplane on simply its third suborbital flight above 80km.

Nonetheless, shortly after the house airplane was launched from its service plane, named White Knight Two, the ignition sequence to gentle the house airplane’s motor didn’t full. Consequently, the rocket motor failed to fireplace, and the 2 pilots on board safely glided the automobile again to a runway in New Mexico moderately than hovering above the ambiance.

This flight got here nearly precisely two years after the corporate’s first profitable suborbital flight in Decembe r2018 and 22 months since its second suborbital flight in February 2019. Since then, Virgin Galactic has been transferring its operations from California to New Mexico, modifying the inside of Area Ship Two‘s cabin for passenger flights, and promising stockholders it might quickly start business flights and enhance its cadence of operations.

Previous to Saturday’s flight try, Virgin Galactic’s inventory had closed at $32.04 per share. When the New York Inventory Trade opened on Monday, the inventory dropped about 15 p.c, beginning the day at $27.11. It was buying and selling barely increased following the opening.

The corporate had sought to allay the fears of buyers with a information launch issued Monday morning, earlier than the inventory market opened. It framed the failure as a validation of the spacecraft’s security engineering and mentioned Virgin Galactic would quickly return to the skies.

“As we do with each check flight, we’re evaluating all the info, together with the foundation trigger evaluation of the pc communication loss,” Michael Colglazier, the chief govt of Virgin Galactic, mentioned within the launch. “We stay up for sharing info on our subsequent flight window within the close to future.”

Previous to this weekend, the corporate had set out a reasonably rigorous schedule. This could have included one other suborbital flight with 4 mission specialists flying contained in the SpaceShipTwo cabin to make sure its readiness for business operations. This was to be adopted by a last check flight, carrying Virgin Galactic’s founder, Richard Branson, through the first quarter of 2021. After this level, the corporate supposed to start flying business missions with paying prospects. It’s not now clear how this schedule will probably be affected.

Though the corporate’s slick renderings of the cabin inside present six seats, there are solely 4 seats within the first model of Area Ship Two. The automobile is simply too heavy, and it lacks the efficiency to hold six passengers along with its two pilots. It’s doable that future variations of the spacecraft will have the ability to deal with six passengers, permitting the corporate to extend its income from every flight.

Saturday’s flight additionally will need to have confirmed to be a bitter disappointment for Spaceport America and the state of New Mexico the place it’s based mostly. The state has invested greater than $200 million to draw and retain Virgin Galactic, and waited almost a decade for this primary powered flight. It can now have to attend a little bit longer.

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