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FAA Clears Virgin Galactic for Take Off

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has completed its inquiry into Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity July space flight.


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has completed its inquiry into Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity July space flight. Virgin Galactic is free to blast off again. 

PATRICK T. FALLON | Getty Images

Agency officials and the space flight company announced the conclusion of the investigation into the July 11 test flight on Wednesday. 

Per Virgin Galactic, the corrective actions the company proposed were accepted by the FAA. They include updated calculations to expand the protected airspace for future flights as well as additional steps into the company’s flight procedures that will ensure real-time mission notifications to FAA Air Traffic Control. 

Related: Virgin Galactic Stock Drops After Test Flight Postponed

CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement to accompany the announcement, “Our entire approach to spaceflight is guided by a fundamental commitment to safety at every level, including our spaceflight system and our test flight program. We appreciate the FAA’s thorough review of this inquiry. Our test flight program is specifically designed to continually improve our processes and procedures. The updates to our airspace and real-time mission notification protocols will strengthen our preparations as we move closer to the commercial launch of our spaceflight experience.”

In an earlier statement last month, the company said its Unity 23 test flight with the Italian Air Force is slated for mid-October. At the time, Virgin Galactic said the timing of the flight was “pending resolution of the FAA matter.”

News of the probe broke in early September. After the New Yorker reported that the regulatory agency was looking into a deviation in the July 11 flight’s descent, the FAA confirmed to Reuters and other outlets that Branson’s aircraft “deviated from its Air Traffic Control Clearance as it returned to Spaceport America. The FAA investigation is ongoing.”

In response, Virgin Galactic acknowledged that the trajectory of the flight did deviate from the company’s original plan, but “did not fly outside of the lateral confines of the protected airspace.”

According to the New Yorker report, a red light flashed on the vehicle’s console to indicate an “entry glide-cone-warning.” The Virgin Galactic statement said the company diesputed “the misleading characterizations and conclusions in the New Yorker article.”

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