FAA Probes Misalignment Pin Loss in Virgin Galactic Mothership During Spacecraft Launch

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spacecraft lost a key piece of hardware during its most recent commercial spaceflight, according to the company. The hardware in question is an alignment pin that ensures the proper positioning of the VSS Unity when it is attached to its VMS Eve mothership aircraft. This pin plays a crucial role in distributing forces such as drag as the two aircraft ascend. However, despite losing the pin after the space plane had separated from the mothership, Virgin Galactic asserts that there was no damage to either aircraft or danger posed.

The issue was reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on January 31. Virgin Galactic maintains that the flight, conducted in controlled airspace, posed minimal hazard to anything below. The company has stated that the detached alignment pin did not pose a safety threat to the vehicles or crew onboard at any point during the flight.

An investigation into the incident will be carried out jointly by Virgin Galactic and the FAA. The company will provide an update before its next mission, Galactic 07, which is scheduled for launch in the second quarter of 2024. However, the FAA has grounded Virgin Galactic until the investigation is complete. The company will need to request and receive approval from the FAA to modify its license, incorporating corrective actions and meeting all other licensing requirements, before it can return to flight.

Aside from the incident with the alignment pin, the Galactic 06 mission was notable for carrying the first Ukrainian woman to space. However, it’s worth noting that Virgin Galactic’s flights don’t quite reach the Karman line, the boundary often used to define the edge of space.

The flight also marked one of the last for Unity, as Virgin Galactic plans to retire its current fleet of suborbital vehicles and replace them with its new “Delta class” space planes. These new vehicles will be capable of conducting two missions per week. Test flights for the first Delta class vehicle are expected to begin in 2025, with commercial flights slated for 2026. Currently, a ticket aboard the six-passenger Unity costs $450,000.

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