Virgin Galactic cuts short first rocket-powered spaceflight

Billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic cut short the first rocket-powered test flight of its spaceplane from New Mexico in the US.

The company had been planning to reach space with the test flight on Saturday but the spaceplane’s engine cut off too early.

Following the incident, the vehicle’s two pilots flew back to Spaceport America and landed safely.

“Our flight today did not reach space as we had been planning,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO, Virgin Galactic.

“After being released from its mothership, SpaceShip Two Unity’s onboard computer that monitors the rocket motor lost connection. As designed this triggered a fail-safe scenario that intentionally halted ignition of the rocket motor,” he said.

This test flight hoped to fulfill a number of objectives, including testing elements of the spaceplane’s customer cabin as well as assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilisers and flight controls during boost.

The flight also carried payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Programme.

“As we do with every test flight, we are evaluating all the data, including the root cause assessment of the computer communication loss,” Colglazier said, adding, that the company would share information on its next flight window in the near future.

This flight which the Virgin Galactic had to cut short was meant to be a key step in helping the company in preparation of its aim sending first passengers to space on the spaceplane called VSS Unity, The Verge reported.

The space tourism company aims at starting flying commercial passengers from 2021, the report said.