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Spaceship carrying Richard Branson flew off course, FAA is investigating

During the historic spaceflight of Sir Richard Branson in July, near the end of the burn of the VSS Unity spacecraft's engine, a red light appeared on a console. This alerted the crew to an "entry glide-cone warning." Pilots Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci faced a split-second decision: kill the rocket motor or take immediate action to address their trajectory problem. This scenario is outlined in a new report by Nicholas Schmidle, a writer with more insight into Virgin Galactic than… ( More...

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Shenghao Han 49
"Possible pilot deviation, I got a phone number for you when you are ready."
KoolerKT 3
Not sure what you mean.
Edward Miller 13
Must not be a pilot.
Steve Ford 2
I'm not a pilot either. But here's a nice page that explains it and more.
Chris Muncy 5
Best comment ever.
Jeffrey Bue 6
Sounds to me like the issue was that the pilots should have aborted and didn't. I'm not smart enough to know how much risk was involved in over-riding the abort. I'm glad the flight was a success. I hope Scott Manley does a video about this on YouTube. His analyses of these types of things is always very interesting and informative.
DaveRK 4
I'm beginning to tire of the cookie cutter answers that start with “The safety of ..."
To the point any time I read or hear it, all I see is a room of lawyers and suits.
tlfys1 13
They should have just asked sir Richard to take the conn. His ego alone would have put them back on course.
This appears to be the FAA providing or VG requesting too narrow of an airspace block.

For a flight like this, it would be better (since who else is up that high?) to just request a larger "blocK" to fly in.

I suspect this will become the status quo once they get things sorted out.
Oops. And they are planning 100 flights a year? I hope they get this issue sorted out. You can't have rich people just rocketing all over the place at a whim.

But, doesn't that make it sound like a carnival ride? You go up, you come down, ride over. The egotistical idle rich, not content with warping national politics with their cash and lack of self awareness will be doing what after the thrill of 'space flight' *cough* *cough* fades. Will someone have to build a new space station? A 'Four Seasons' in orbit? (Will they have to come up with a new rating system for in-orbit resorts? 10-stars? 15?)

But the article makes a totally automagic 'space flight' sound so great, but wait until the computer 'goofs', and the flight deviates from plans. I'd rather have a combination of the two, with a clear plan if things 'go sideways'. Many many things could happen 'sub-optimally', that could happen where a 'crew' would be damn glad they could take over, provided they knew how. Carrying a pilot(s) and keeping them from getting bored might be a challenge.

And egos aren't all bad, but obviously, recently, bad egos are causing a lot of issues that the country, and world, might have an issue surviving. Cheers...
M.F. LaBoo 2
High altitude winds are Things That Can Be Quantified as to flight levels, direction and speed. In fact, more than one SpaceX Falcon launch has been postponed late in the countdown due to this precise reason. That's PRElaunch, not after lighting the candle.

Maybe there's an SR-71 jock in the house who can tell us how much force the wind can exert above 50k feet, the nominal drop altitude for SpaceShip Two.

In any case there are data for the wind and the actual flight profile, which the FAA is more than capable of correlating.
bbabis 2
If it happened toward the end of the burn they were certainly well above any airspace the FAA has control over. A low Earth satellite would be the only traffic. On the glide down, they would have also been back in the box upon entering controlled airspace.
Torsten Hoff 8
The issue isn't where this occurred, but that it could have resulted in the loss of the aircraft and those aboard.

If they want to carry passengers, they will need to prove to the FAA that the aircraft and its systems are safe. The fact that VSS Unity relies heavily on human pilots could be a problem. They may need to add additional automatic safeguards to reduce the workload on the pilots.
Due to atmospheric drag, no satellites operate at that altitude. But every SpaceX launch needs FAA approval before it can happen. They are in a certain airspace, and are limited to operations in that space. Is it a crisis? It COULD BE, and that's why it's an issue. It sounds like overreach, but if there aren't regulations, and people just flagrantly violate them, it'll be a crazy world.
Alan Dahl 4
The problem is that once they got out of the defined airspace that put them right at the hairy edge of their ability to glide back. If they had deviated any further they would not have been able to make it. This is why it's a huge deal, it's not just that they didn't follow the flight plan, it's that they compromised safety.
Yes, when I read that in a much later update on the 'red light incident', I was somewhat surprised that they had a rather 'Meh' attitude in the cockpit. I would imagine that they would have had to have alternate landing sites, but where could they have realistically landed, not knowing the particulars of their landing requirements. I would assume that they would be limited in their flight path, but wonder if there is an alternate. Nothing was in grave danger, but they 'stretched the envelope', and if they had gone farther away, landing would have been a bad PR incident. Not that Branson hasn't been involved in some real embarrassing incidents in the past. He's had an interesting life.
Yazoo 2
Wait .... If the FAA grounded every aircraft every time there was a flight path deviation we'd be flying kites. Isn't that why you have a pilot on board?
matt jensen 1
Is the FAA now declaring a 200nm EEZin space?
Bill Sanford 1
Loose lips, sink ships and Chief Test Pilot careers.
And Virgin Galactic is currently GROUNDED!!! No surprise there. How long is the question...
Phil Howry -3
This raving egomaniac (i.e., "Sir Richard Branson") has ignored so many "red light", "off course" warning lights in his life, why should anyone care about this one?


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