FAA clears Virgin Galactic to resume SpaceShipTwo flights

by Jeff Foust — September 29, 2021

The FAA said Sept. 29 it closed an investigation into an airspace excursion by Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo on a July 11 suborbital flight, allowing the company to resume flights. Credit: Virgin Galactic

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration said Sept. 29 that it completed its investigation into a problem on Virgin Galactic’s most recent SpaceShipTwo flight, allowing the company to resume flights of the suborbital spaceplane.

The FAA said it determined SpaceShipTwo deviated from its assigned airspace on its flight July 11 that took six people, including company founder Richard Branson, to an altitude of more than 80 kilometers. The company also failed to communicate that deviation with the FAA.

“The FAA required Virgin Galactic to implement changes on how it communicates to the FAA during flight operations to keep the public safe,” the FAA concluded in a brief statement. “Virgin Galactic has made the required changes and can return to flight operations.”

Asked about those changes, an FAA spokesperson referred to a separate statement from Virgin Galactic. The company said its corrective changes include new calculations to expand the protected airspace during SpaceShipTwo flights. “Designating a larger area will ensure that Virgin Galactic has ample protected airspace for a variety of possible flight trajectories during spaceflight missions,” the company stated.

Virgin Galactic also said that it would also make changes to its flight procedures “to ensure real-time mission notifications to FAA Air Traffic Control.”

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