Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo fails to fire on attempt to reach space
Virgin Galactic has hit a small speed bump as it continues testing of its spaceplane in New Mexico, with the latest outing for SpaceShipTwo Unity brought to a premature end due to rocket failure. The vehicle failed to reach space after detaching from its mothership as the team had hoped, but was able to bring the pilots onboard back to land unharmed.
The Virgin Galactic team relocated from its base in Mojave, California, to its new facility, called Spaceport America, in New Mexico earlier this year, and has been busy ramping up its testing program in the time since. This has involved using its VMS Eve mothership to carry SpaceShipTwo Unity to high altitude and release it as part of unpowered glide tests, and carrying out various in-flight maneuvers.
The test flight that took place over the weekend was intended to be the first rocket-powered flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity from its new base, recreating the company’s efforts in 2018 and 2019 when it successfully fired up its rockets to reach space two times.
VMS Eve lifted off from the runway as planned with SpaceShipTwo Unity fixed to its wing as it climbed beyond an altitude of 40,000 ft (12,000 m) and prepared to release the spaceplane. However, moments after Unity detached from its mothership, the “ignition sequence for the rocket motor did not complete,” according to a subsequent tweet from Virgin Galactic. The company said the computer onboard SpaceShipTwo Unity that monitors the rocket motor lost connection, triggering a fail-safe scenario that aborted the ignition of the rocket motor. Both vehicles subsequently made safe landings.
While no one was harmed and no vehicles were lost, which the company pointed out are the foundations of every successful mission, the test flight is a still a hiccup for Virgin Galactic as it eyes regular commercial flights further down the track. It was recently revealed that planetary scientist Alan Stern has signed on to be among the first to travel to space in the company’s spaceplane, though no date has been set for the commencement of commercial operations.
SpaceShipTwo Unity's landing after the flight can be seen below.
Source: Virgin Galactic