Virgin Galactic forced to abort key test flight of space plane

Flight was first from company’s $200m base in New Mexico

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Saturday 12 December 2020 23:13
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Virgin Galactic was forced to abort a key test flight of its space plane after an apparent issue with its rocket motor.

Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company had launched the plane up to a height of 40,000 feet over New Mexico when it developed an issue and had to return to earth.

The test flight had aimed to reach a height of 50 miles above the planet to test the cabin experience and the boosters.

The firm confirmed that the space plane, which was carrying test pilots CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, safely landed back at its base.

"The ignition sequence for the rocket motor did not complete," the company said on Twitter.

 "Vehicle and crew are in great shape. We have several motors ready at Spaceport America. We will check the vehicle and be back to flight soon."

The suborbital spaceplane was carried to an altitude of roughly 44,000 feet by its twin-fuselage mothership, which is known as  White Knight 2. 

It detached from the carrier plane but a live video stream appeared to show the engines firing for just a brief moment.

Virgin Galactic has signed-up 600 customers who have each agreed to pay $250,000 for a seat onboard the space plane for a ride up to 60 miles above the Earth.

And another 400 have expressed an interest in booking tickets to the edge of space.

It was supposed to be the third test flight above the 50-mile mark, which the US government considers to be space.

And it was the first flight from the company’s $200 million Spaceport America facility in New Mexico.

The company, which was founded by the British billionaire in 2004, will also have to carry out a test flight with four crew members in the cabin.

Mr Branson, 70, is expected to be one of the very first people to ride on the space plane when it goes into orbit.

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