The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating Richard Branson’s flight to space after a “mishap” occurred.
“The FAA is overseeing the Virgin Galactic investigation of its July 11 SpaceShipTwo mishap that occurred over Spaceport America, New Mexico. SpaceShipTwo deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America,” the FAA said in a statement shared with The Hill.
“Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety,” the agency continued.
In a statement to The Hill, a Virgin Galactic spokesperson acknowledged that flight's "ultimate trajectory deviated from our original plan," but said it was a "controlled and intentional flight path."
"At no time were passengers and crew put in any danger as a result of this change in trajectory, and at no time did the ship travel above any population centers or cause a hazard to the public. FAA representatives were present in our control room during the flight and in post-flight debriefs. We have been working closely with the FAA to support a thorough review and timely resolution of this issue," the spokesperson said.
Branson launched into space on July 11 for a trip that lasted about 90 minutes. The spaceplane made it to the 50-mile altitude that the FAA recognizes as the edge of space.
The English billionaire travelled with two pilots and three other mission specialists.
The New Yorker first reported on Wednesday that the spaceplane--which the company also refers to as Unity 22-- flew outside of the airspace for about one minute and forty seconds.
The plane was too shallow, and the nose of the ship was not at a sufficient angle as it was returning, putting it at risk of an emergency landing.
The New York further reported that the pilots — Dave Mackey and Mike Masucci — decided to continue flying despite warning lights signaling something was wrong. Sources within the company told the newspaper that the pilots should have aborted the mission.
The Virgin Galactic spokesperson said the company disputes the "misleading characterizations and conclusions in the New Yorker article published yesterday."
“When the vehicle encountered high altitude winds which changed the trajectory, the pilots and systems monitored the trajectory to ensure it remained within mission parameters. Our pilots responded appropriately to these changing flight conditions exactly as they have been trained and in strict accordance with our established procedures," the spokesperson said.
She added that the flight "further reaffirmed our technical readiness, our rigorous pilot training program and the inherent safety of our spaceflight system, particularly in light of the changing flight conditions."
Branson’s space trip was considered monumental as billionaires seek to commercialize space travel. Later that month, billionaire Amazon founder Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosElon Musk mocks Biden for ignoring his company's historic space flight SpaceX launches first all-civilian orbit crew into space Tucker Carlson says he lies when 'I'm really cornered or something' MORE launched into space on the Blue Origin, reaching an altitude of 66.5 miles.
Updated at 6:03 p.m.