A long-awaited rocket-powered flight over the desert of southern New Mexico on Saturday was much shorter thanand its founder, Richard Branson, had hoped.
The company’s WhiteKnightTwo plane took off fromspaceport at 7:24 am PT (8:24 am MT), carrying the SpaceShipTwo Unity passenger spacecraft. The couple then spent about 45 minutes climbing to free themselves of the altitude to over 40,000 feet (12,192 meters).
About 50 minutes after takeoff, a livestream from NASASpaceflight.com appeared to show Unity breaking up and its rocket motor firing for about a second before stopping early.
“After being freed from its mothership, the SpaceShipTwo Unity onboard computer that monitors the rocket engine lost connection,” the company later reported on Twitter. “As designed, this triggered a safety scenario that intentionally interrupted the ignition of the rocket motor. ”
Unity has hovered back for a landing at Spaceport America, and the company has confirmed all pilots and vehicles are safe.
“As we do for each test flight, we assess all data, including the assessment of the root cause of the loss of computer communication,” added company. “We look forward to sharing information on our next flight window in the near future. ”
After years of development and delays due to aand now the , the company’s hope of sending Branson and then paying its customers into space by 2020 had already been dashed even before that aborted test flight.
Virgin conducted motorized test flights from California. But he’s aiming to complete two test flights from his business base in New Mexico before Branson can finally take the ride he’s been waiting for (and paying for) since the company was founded in 2004.
Saturday’s flight was also carrying small payloads for NASA. It is not yet known when the company will try again.