FAA allows Virgin Galactic to resume flights after investigation

FAA allows Virgin Galactic to resume flights after investigation
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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Wednesday that it has closed its investigation into Virgin Group founder Richard Branson's July flight to space.

Earlier this month, the FAA said it was investigating a mishap that had occurred during the 90-minute Virgin Galactic flight that took place on July 11. The spaceplane was too shallow and its nose was not at a sufficient angle during its return, risking an emergency landing.

"SpaceShipTwo deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America,” the FAA said at the time.

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Virgin Galactic acknowledged that it had deviated from its original plan, but said "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."

In a statement Wednesday, the FAA said that it "required Virgin Galactic to implement changes on how it communicates to the FAA during flight operations to keep the public safe. Virgin Galactic has made the required changes and can return to flight operations."

Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement that he appreciated the FAA's review.

“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," said Colglazier. "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.”

The spaceplane carried six passengers to a 50-mile altitude, which is recognized as being the edge of space by the FAA. The launch was delayed due to weather, but was ultimately deemed a success by Branson. It was the fourth Virgin Galactic flight to go to the edge of space since 2018.

A Virgin Galactic spokesperson said the July flight "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."