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HomeNewsVirgin Galactic Reports Spaceplane’s Mechanical Fault to FAA

Virgin Galactic Reports Spaceplane’s Mechanical Fault to FAA

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Virgin Galactic self-reported an incident to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The incident involved a detached alignment pin from its suborbital spaceplane’s attachment system.

A picture of a Virgin Galactic Airplane
Source: Virgin Galactic/X

This pin is crucial for ensuring the correct alignment of the spaceplane. The spaceplane is named Unity and attaches to its mothership, VMS Eve, during ground preparations.

The Role of the Alignment Pin

The alignment pin serves a critical role beyond ground operations. It helps transfer load from Unity to the shear pin fitting assembly and into the mothership’s pylon and center wing during flights.

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Source: Virgin Galactic/X

Virgin Galactic clarified that despite being detachable after Unity was released, the pins don’t support the spaceship’s weight and don’t have an active function once the spaceship is released.

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Assurance From Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic emphasized that the detached alignment pin did not pose a safety risk to the vehicles or the crew.

Source: Michael Colglazier/Instagram

The incident occurred despite the recent success of Galactic 06, which showcased the capabilities of their suborbital spaceflight system. Galactic 06 carried a crew of six more than 55 miles above Earth, demonstrating the system’s effectiveness.

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Impact on Future Flights

Virgin Galactic intends to conduct the next flight of Unity in the second quarter of 2024, as reported by The Register.

Virgin Galactic
Source: Virgin Galactic/X

However, the company has noted that these plans may be revised pending the outcome of the investigation into the detached pin incident.

Workforce and Operational Changes

In November 2023, Virgin Galactic’s CEO, Michael Colglazier, disclosed a substantial operational shift, as reported by SpaceNews. The company plans to halt flights from mid-2024 to focus on developing the next generation of spaceplanes, known as the Delta class.

Virgin Galactic
Source: Virgin Galactic/X

As part of this strategic reorientation, approximately 18 percent of Virgin Galactic’s workforce will be laid off.

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Safety and Maintenance Priorities

Virgin Galactic stressed that the detached alignment pin did not compromise safety despite recent maintenance on VMS Eve, which signified a move toward commercial operations.

Virgin Atlantic
Source: Virgin Galactic/X

However, the incident has prompted inquiries into the durability and reliability of spacecraft components, even if they do not directly affect flight safety.

FAA Involvement in the Investigation

The FAA has acknowledged the incident, affirming that during the Virgin Galactic Galactic 06 commercial human spaceflight mission, “a mishap occurred… involving an issue with an alignment pin.”

Virgin Atlantic
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In response, the FAA oversees Virgin Galactic’s adherence to its FAA-approved mishap investigation plan and other regulatory requirements.

Virgin Galactic’s Discovery Process

According to The Register, Virgin Galactic detected the missing pin through their camera system during routine post-flight reviews.

Source: Michael Colglazier/Instagram

This proactive stance toward safety and maintenance underscores the company’s dedication to upholding the highest spaceflight safety standards and operational integrity.

Clarification on the Delta Vehicles

Virgin Galactic clarified that the detached pin is a component of the mothership, VMS Eve, not the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft.

Virgin Galactic
Source: Virgin Galactic/X

This distinction is crucial for understanding the specific functions and responsibilities of the different components within Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight system.

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Reaffirming the Mission’s Success

Virgin Galactic reiterated the success of the Galactic 06 mission, confirming it was conducted in accordance with the company’s rigorous flight procedures and protocols.

Source: Virgin Galactic/X

The detached alignment pin did not impact the crew’s safety or the mission’s success, underscoring the resilience of their safety measures.

Public Announcement and Market Reaction

Virgin Galactic made the incident public five days after notifying the FAA. This transparency did not negatively impact the company’s share price, which saw a slight increase in after-hours trading, as reported by SpaceNews. 

Source: Virgin Galactic/X

Virgin Galactic’s open communication about the incident demonstrates its commitment to transparency and safety.

Looking Forward to Galactic 07

Virgin Galactic is gearing up for Galactic 07, its next mission, which, as SpaceNews detailed, will include a researcher and private astronauts. 

Source: Virgin Galactic/X

This upcoming flight, scheduled for the second quarter, marks a significant milestone in Virgin Galactic’s mission timeline. This is before it temporarily halts flights to concentrate on developing the Delta class spaceplanes.

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