back to article Virgin Galactic cleared to fly again after a spell on Federal Aviation Administration's naughty step

Virgin Galactic has received clearance by US flight regulators to resume spaceflights. Owner Richard Branson's high altitude jaunt on the Unity 22 flight in July attracted the ire of the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) after the rocketplane, SpaceShipTwo, ventured outside of its allocated airspace. SpaceShipTwo, dubbed Unity …

  1. steelpillow Silver badge
    Boffin

    "Virgin Galactic has remained tight-lipped over what happened"

    Not so. They publicly explained that a slightly prolonged spell at an altitude with higher-than-forecast winds blew them a little off course. They also noted that such events are common enough in regular commercial aviation.

    The FAA's concern has always been that they flew outside the tickbox. Solution: make the spaceplane tickbox bigger, and add edge detection to the procedures. But that needed a little time to confirm.

    1. tony72

      Re: "Virgin Galactic has remained tight-lipped over what happened"

      And although this news seems to have come via Virgin Galactic themselves (at least I can't seem to see anything directly from the FAA), and therefore may have been filtered somewhat, there's no mention so far of any findings that the pilots did anything wrong, or of any required change in how the pilots should respond to a similar situation in the future, those that were calling for the pilots' heads in the thread about the original incident should note.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: "Virgin Galactic has remained tight-lipped over what happened"

        The pilots will respond differently next time - they will notify ATC.

        In the original incident, they didn't because they were neither briefed nor obliged to do so. They will be next time.

        From now on, ATC will have the final say over whether the mission must be aborted.

        1. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: "Virgin Galactic has remained tight-lipped over what happened"

          From now on, ATC will have the final say over whether the mission must be aborted.

          I thought they had a mission control monitoring such things, but I guess I was wrong. That's a bit more cowboy than I expected.

          Normally, mission control monitors the trajectory and updates the crew on their abort options - for example the "single engine - Zaragoza" call during Space Shuttle ascent meant if they lost 2 engines, they had enough energy to make it to the strip at Zaragoza, Spain.

          1. steelpillow Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: "Virgin Galactic has remained tight-lipped over what happened"

            Whose mission control would that be? Some folks do seem to need reminding that NASA and the good ol' US of A do not have a monopoly on commercial spaceflight.

            As one industry pundit put it, "Private flights in private ships mean private mission control." While in FAA airspace, that mission control remains legally subject to licensing by the FAA, and that means doing what ATC tells you to.

            Of course, launching from one of the nascent UK sites would be equally under the thumb of the CAA/NATS, etc. etc. Or, maybe try the Eurospace facility at Kourou in French Guiana. Then, there are those New Zealand guys... Don't think any of them ever launched the Shuttle.

        2. tony72

          Re: "Virgin Galactic has remained tight-lipped over what happened"

          Must say I don't see that documented anywhere, and I find it highly unlikely that ATC would be making the call on whether to abort it not. What is your source for this information?

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: "Virgin Galactic has remained tight-lipped over what happened"

          "From now on, ATC will have the final say over whether the mission must be aborted."

          When you're flying ballistically or with insufficient atmosphere to operate control surfaces, gravity would beg to differ

          Power gives way to sail. Always has, always will. ATC's responsibility is to ensure that traffic in the area doesn't approach the descending glider

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: "Virgin Galactic has remained tight-lipped over what happened"

      Not so. They publicly explained that a slightly prolonged spell at an altitude with higher-than-forecast winds blew them a little off course. They also noted that such events are common enough in regular commercial aviation.

      The problem was that it blew them off course far enough to make it a real concern that they had the range to glide back to a proper landing. And normal aviation doesn't have to worry about that sort of thing.

  2. graeme leggett

    Recommendations

    " include expanding the protected airspace to allow for a greater variety of trajectories and adding steps to ensure real-time mission notifications"

    So basically Virgin need to ask for more space to fly inside (because they can't guarantee their aircraft will stay inside the lines) and they need to talk to air traffic control?

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: Recommendations

      Yep. Is all.

  3. ratcatcher67

    "Galactic" - they cant even make it to space, - have you been missold??

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Facepalm

      I want a refund for all that chocolate I've consumed over the years then. Galaxy, Milky Way, Mars, ... none of them got me to said places*

      *Well, technically we're already in the galaxy/milky way.

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Ford Galaxy can barely get to the other side of the road ... And as for Apple, Tangerine and Apricot - never even a hint of a fruit salad to be seen!

    2. ChrisC Silver badge

      And many Virgin Atlantic flights don't even bother including a hop across the pond as part of their flight plans...

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Neither is currently capable of achieving orbit"

    And as long as they can't, they're just toys for (billoinnaire) boys.

    Billionnaire will billionnaire, but their toys are going to have to become useful if they want to make anything out of it.

    People are not going to pay $100K to spend two minutes at the edge of space.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: "Neither is currently capable of achieving orbit"

      The backlog of pre-ordered wants a word with you, suggesting many rich people are willing to pay vast sums for exactly that.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: "Neither is currently capable of achieving orbit"

        I wonder who will be killed first.

        1. Skiron

          Re: "Neither is currently capable of achieving orbit"

          If it's on Youtube then the radio star.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: "Neither is currently capable of achieving orbit"

      The next flight, when it becomes scheduled for Virgin is an Italian air force research flight.

      Science has been sending up sub-orbital rockets for research for decades. The UK has launched over 400 Skylark sounding rockets way up there. This is like a sounding rocket capable of carrying half a dozen humans.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: "Neither is currently capable of achieving orbit"

        Like? It is one - with wings for the return leg

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