FAA clears Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo for flight following probe

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo has been cleared to fly again by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration following a probe into a mishap during its July spaceflight, the company announced Wednesday. 

“We appreciate the FAA’s thorough review of this inquiry,” Virgin Galactic’s CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement. “Our test flight program is specifically designed to continually improve our processes and procedures.”

The FAA and Virgin Galactic agreed the company would update its calculations for airspace protection — designating a larger area so as to create ample protected airspace — and include additional steps into the company’s flight procedures for communication purposes, the company said Wednesday. 

On July 11, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and five other employees flew to an altitude of approximately 50 miles in the VSS Unity rocket-powered spaceplane for a test flight. It was the company’s first spaceflight with a six-person crew, and it intended to demonstrate that Virgin Galactic is ready for more customers.

“I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid but honestly, nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” Branson said after landing at the company’s launch site in New Mexico.

The FAA had said the flight veered off course, putting the vehicle outside of the air traffic control clearance area. Although no one onboard was in any added danger, the vehicle did drop below the protected airspace for nearly two minutes, the company said, according to the Associated Press. 

The government agency began its investigation on August 11 and grounded SpaceShipTwo until it was concluded.

Virgin Galactic said it will adopt the corrective actions proposed by the FAA and that it expects to open its flight window for Unity 23 — the next test flight — by mid-October.

“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,” Colglazier said.