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Richard Branson’s space trip didn’t go as planned

Richard Branson during the Unity 22 space mission on July 11, 2021.

Richard Branson during the Unity 22 space mission on July 11, 2021.
Image: Virgin galactic

There are disturbing new details about Virgin Galactic’s historic flight. billionaire Richard Branson on the brink of space.

Reporter Nicholas Schmidl of the New Yorker wrote a caustic article about July 11 launch who brought billionaire Richard Branson into space. The flight did not seem to go according to plan as ARIA Unity Spacethe plane deviated from the course during the climb. In addition to flying in unauthorized airspace, spacethe plane could not reach the desired trajectory, which threatened a dangerous descent and landing.

According to the report, Virgin Galactic pilots Dave McKay and Mike Masucci were aware of the problem as several beacons lit up on their console. Schmidl says his information came from eight unnamed individuals who are “knowledgeable about the program.”

Despite the problems, VSS Unitywith Branson and three other passengers on board made it to height 53 miles (86 km), anddive for four minutes in zero gravity. Then the pilots landed car at Spaceport America in New Mexico. But the incident raises important questions about the safety of Virgin Galactic’s space travel offering, which is now expenses $ 450,000 per seat. It also raises questions about the apparently questionable safety culture at the company founded by Richard Branson.

In a statement via email, Virgin Galactic said it disputes the “misleading characteristics and findings” in the New Yorker article.

The VSS Unity rocket engine burns out during the mission.

The VSS Unity rocket engine burns out during the mission.
Image: Virgin galactic

According to Schmidl’s sources, the yellow warning light came on about a minute after the VSS started operating. Unitypowered flight as the space plane flew 20 miles (32 km) over the New Mexico desert. The yellow light was “a warning to the pilots that their flight path is too flat and the bow of the ship is not vertical enough,” Schmidl wrote. “If they don’t fix it, they risk making a dangerous crash landing in the desert while descending.”

And then the warning light turned red at the very end of the one-minute combustion of the engine. The red light was a “glide slope cone warning”, which Schmidl called a “big event.” Like the now retired Space Shut, Virgin Galactic spacethe plane must return to Earth and land on the surface (unlike the shuttle, however, the spaceaircraft launched to an altitude of 50,000 feet mother ship, in this case WhiteKnightTwo). During the ascent on July 11, VSS. Unity was not flying steep enough to have the necessary planing energy to reach the intended destination. During the 2015 pilots’ meeting, Masucci said that red warning light “should scare the hell out of you,” according to the New Yorker.

The ship was flying at the wrong angle, which also meant that it was flying outside of its cone, and therefore outside the airspace established by the FAA for the mission. This is not good, as the ship could have hit the trajectory of another aircraft. Schmidl says Virgin Galactic did not immediately notify the FAA of its indiscretion, but the agency eventually caught on. FAA claims VSS Unity spent nearly two minutes outside of his authorized airspace and that the investigation into the Unity 22 mission is currently ongoing, reports the New Yorker.

Several sources at Virgin Galactic told Schmidl that “the safest way to respond to a warning [lights] would interrupt “ but a company spokesman “contested this claim.” To interrupt the flight, the pilots would have to turn off their engines and return to Earth before reaching space. If they did, Branson would not have been the first billionaire to reach space. (Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin Prepared for same later that month)

“The safety of our crew and passengers is a top priority for Virgin Galactic,” says Virgin Galactic. in his statement. “Our entire approach to space travel is based on a fundamental commitment to safety at all levels, including our space flight system, our flight test program and our rigorous pilot training protocol.”

Here’s how Virgin Galactic described the flight:

Unity 22 completed a safe and successful test flight following our flight procedures and training protocols. When the vehicle collided with a strong wind that changed its flight path, pilots and systems monitored the trajectory to ensure it remained within mission parameters. Our pilots have responded adequately to these changing flight conditions, just as they were trained and in strict accordance with our established procedures. Although the final flight path deviated from our original plan, it was a controlled and deliberate flight path that allowed Unity 22 to successfully reach space and land safely at our spaceport in New Mexico. Never once have passengers and crew been exposed to any danger as a result of such a change in flight trajectory. “

Here’s what the company said about the FAA investigation:

Although the final flight path deviated from our original plan, the Unity 22 flight did not fly beyond the lateral boundaries of the protected airspace. As a result of the trajectory adjustment, the flight did indeed fall below the altitude of the airspace that is protected for Virgin Galactic missions for a short distance and time (1 minute and 41 seconds) before re-entering the restricted airspace, which is fully protected. to land for Virgin Galactic missions. The ship never traveled over settlements and did not pose a danger to the population. FAA representatives were present in our control room during the flight and during post-flight analyzes. We are working in partnership with the FAA to address the airspace challenge for future flights. ”

Virgin Galactic is confident that it has “the right culture, security policies and processes to build and operate a safe and successful business over the long term.” The track record of the company, with its history of tragedies and foreseen incidents, suggests otherwise.

During flight tests of the system in 2014, due to an “anomaly in flight”, one pilot found himself killed and another one is injured. In his New Yorker article, Schmidl talks about other close circumstances, including serious incidents in 2018 and 2019, both of which could have ended in disaster. He also describes how Todd Erickson, former Virgin Galactic vice president of security and testing, will step down due to the company’s disappointing safety culture. The problem is that Mark Stuckey was fired as director of flight testing after the flight on July 11 after publicly expressing concerns about the company’s safety regulations. Erickson and Stuckey’s departure “leaves the company without important internal voices for accountability,” Schmidl writes.

YYou should definitely read Schmidl’s entire book. reportas it paints a very bleak picture of the current state of affairs at Virgin Galactic.

This is all a very interesting stage –installation for next Virgin Galactic is slated to launch late this month or early October. Several members of the Italian Air Force will participate in the launch, as well as experiments to test the “transient” effect of microgravity on the human body. Following the Unity 23 mission, Virgin Galactic will cease all flights to maintain WhiteKnightTwo and test new space aircraft.

More: NASA has finally begun flight testing of the futuristic ‘air taxi’

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