With no passengers on board, Unity was piloted by CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay for the flight. Virgin Galactic was aiming to reach the edge of space for the third time, on its maiden space flight from its operational base in New Mexico. The spacecraft returned to land on the runway at Spaceport America, approximately 50 miles north of the town of Las Cruces.
“The rocket engine firing sequence did not complete. The vehicle and crew are in great shape. We have several engines ready for Spaceport America. We will check the vehicle and resume the flight soon, ”the company said in a tweet.
Virgin Galactic confirmed the spacecraft had successfully returned by glider to land at Spaceport America in New Mexico, where it had taken off from its jet about an hour earlier. The company noted that the two pilots are “safe and sound”.
“Wheel stop, SpaceShipTwo Unity,” Virgin Galactic said in a tweet.
An unofficial webcast hosted by space news site NASASpaceflight appeared to show that the spacecraft’s engine was cut off after momentarily firing. SpaceShipTwo was released from under its carrier aircraft at about 40,000 feet above sea level, with Unity’s engine briefly turned on before shutting down. Typically, the spacecraft is released from the jet, then fires its rocket motor for more than a minute, reaching speeds of about three times the speed of sound.
Virgin Galactic’s space flight attempt was the first in nearly 22 months, with its previous space flight in February 2019, when Unity reached an altitude of nearly 90 kilometers during a test launch from the Mojave Desert in California. The company is working to launch commercial flights from Spaceport America, where it has moved operations from its development and manufacturing facilities to the Mojave Air and Space Port.
Saturday’s flight was the first of three remaining space flight tests the company plans to conduct to complete development of its spacecraft system, the third of which will carry founder Sir Richard Branson. The impact of the halted test on Virgin Galactic’s schedule remains to be determined, with Branson’s flight previously scheduled for the first quarter of 2021.
Virgin Galactic has around 600 customer bookings on its books, most of which sold for $ 200,000 to $ 250,000 a ticket several years ago. The company plans to fully reopen ticket sales in 2021 after Branson’s flight, although it has not said how much tickets will cost once sales reopen. Company executives have previously said strong demand for tickets means Virgin Galactic expects to dramatically increase prices for early commercial flights.
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