Virgin Galactic Aborts Commercial Space Plane Minutes after Launch

The launch got the all-clear, but the VSS Unity had to land.
Fabienne Lang
Virgin Galactic's planeVirgin Galactic

After weeks of speculation and push backs, Virgin Galactic finally gave the green light for its rocket-powered space plane to launch on Saturday 12 December. 

However, just minutes later, the spacecraft could be seen heading back down to Earth to land, instead of shooting further up into orbit. 

The test flight mission was aborted, and the test pilots landed the spacecraft and themselves safely back to Earth. 


Virgin Galactic's spacecraft managed to launch 40,000 feet (12,192 km) up over New Mexico, its launch site, before turning around and making its way back down to Earth. 

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

Originally set to launch between November 19 -23, the company had to push the date back due to poor weather conditions and COVID-19 restrictions.

After a semi-successful launch last weekend, the company has stated it will review the data collected from Saturday's launch before setting a new date. 

"Our flight today did not reach space as we had been planning," Virgin Galactic chief executive Michael Colglazier explained in a Tweet."After being released from its mothership, the spaceship'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. Following this occurrence, our pilots flew back to Spaceport America and landed gracefully as usual," he continued.

The test flight was set to be Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spacecraft third one, and it was meant to go past the 50 mile mark (80 km) — in other words, the start of outer space. 

The mission's latest cancellation comes after a raft of uncertainties following a tragic accident in 2014 during its first flight test launch. The SpaceShip Two vehicle broke apart and crashed, killing one of the pilots while the other was left seriously injured after parachuting out, as Sky News reported.

Luckily, this time around all pilots survived and the VSS Unity landed safely following its mid-air mishap, and the team has seen a number of successful flight tests since that fateful day in 2014. 

Last weekend's launch was due to be the company's first test flight launch from its newly-built SpacePort America runway in New Mexico, which Virgin Galactic moved into in May 2019, CNN Business stated.

The plan is for Virgin Galactic to shuttle paying customers into space for tourism. The company states it already has approximately 600 customers, who have each paid between $200,000 - $250,000

Before any ticket holders launch into space for fun, though, the company plans on carrying out a number of test flights, including carrying four crew members in the VSS Unity spacecraft.

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