Virgin Galactic spacecraft forced to abort test flight

WASHINGTON: Virgin Galactic’s passenger aircraft Space Ship Two was forced to abort a test flight on Saturday after a technical malfunction.

Richard Branson’s space tourism company, which is preparing for commercial flights next year, was testing its customer cabin, horizontal stabilizers and flight controls. Space Ship Two took off from the Spaceport America base in New Mexico Saturday afternoon, but the two pilots had to turn around and landed just over an hour later.

The company had launched the plane up to a height of 40,000 feet over New Mexico when it developed an issue with its rocket motor and had to return to earth. The test flight had aimed to reach a height of 50 miles above the planet to test the cabin experience and the boosters.

The firm confirmed that the space plane, which was carrying test pilots CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, safely landed back at its base.

“The ignition sequence for the rocket motor did not complete,” the company said on Twitter. “Vehicle and crew are in great shape. We have several motors ready at Spaceport America. We will check the vehicle and be back to flight soon.”

Space Ship Two is expected to take its first passengers into space in 2021. So far, 600 people who have paid up to $250,000 have been waiting for years to take their seat. The spacecraft development has been delayed by a devastating crash of the first one in 2014 due to a pilot error.

 Virgin Galactic has signed-up 600 customers who have each agreed to pay $250,000 for a seat onboard the space plane for a ride up to 60 miles above the Earth. Another 400 have expressed an interest in booking tickets to the edge of space.

It was supposed to be the third test flight above the 50-mile mark, which the US government considers to be space. It was the first flight from the company’s $200 million Spaceport America facility in New Mexico.

The company, which was founded by the British billionaire in 2004, will also have to carry out a test flight with four crew members in the cabin. Branson is expected to be one of the very first people to ride on the space plane when it goes into orbit.


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