Virgin Galactic’s test launch with the VSS Unity space plane failed on Saturday. Shortly after it was released from the ‘mother plane’ and the engine should have ignited, something went wrong for unknown cause. The spacecraft was able to float safely back to the commercial spaceport Spaceport America and the pilots landed safely.
At around 4.15 pm (Dutch time), the aircraft VMS Eve, where VSS Unity was docked, took off from the commercial spaceport Spaceport America in the American state of New Mexico.
At an altitude of more than 12 kilometers, the VSS released Unity for launch, but the engine did not start as intended. The ignition procedure could not be completed for an unknown reason, Virgin Galactic said.
The VSS Unity pilots sent the plane back to Spaceport America, with the engine leaving a trail of smoke in the sky. The pilots were safely back on the ground around 5:45 PM (Dutch time). Both they and “their” space plane are safe and “in good working order”. Virgin Galactic says it will return to flying soon.
Virgin Galactic Launches Astronauts From ‘Mother Plane’
Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s aerospace company, uses a parent jet, VMS Eve, to launch their spacecraft. VMS Eve holds the manned spacecraft until it has climbed up to launch height (which was 12 kilometers this time). Here the space plane is released, and then normally after a short free fall the engine ignites.
The spacecraft then shoots into space, where it lingers for a while to get a nice view of the Earth from space. After that, VSS Unity will come down again and float back to the launch site.
During the last space flight of VSS Unity, on February 22, 2019, a third crew member was on board in addition to the two pilots.
Virgin Galactic’s ultimate goal is to enable space tourism around the Earth. Tourists can already book for a flight. This requires a deposit of $ 1,000 and $ 250,000 for the final ticket. For this amount you get a ninety minute flight, during which you experience a few minutes of weightlessness.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that VMS Eve is a glider. This is not true, because the spacecraft uses its own engines to fly. This has been adjusted in the text.