Virgin Galactic's schedule woes worsened last last week as the company pushed its next flight to mid-October thanks to a potentially defective flight control component.
This new delay will affect Virgin's first commercial mission, the 23rd for the VSS Unity rocket-powered spaceplane, after a supplier flagged a manufacturing defect in a component of the flight actuation system.
The issue is unrelated to the Unity 22 test flight problems in July, when, as readers may recall, founder Richard Branson's flight veered off course slightly for a matter of minutes. That debacle ensured that further SpaceShipTwo flights were put on hold while the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Virgin Galactic probed what caused the drift.
As for the Unity 23 component, Virgin Galactic remained tight-lipped on what it was, only confirming it was unsure if the issue had found its way into its vehicles. The timeline for any potential repair or replacement (if required) is therefore unknown.
FAA issue aside, "which is focused on air traffic control clearance and communications," according to Virgin Galactic, the company had been pressing ahead on preparations for Unity 23, its first research customer mission.
The flight is to carry three paying crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council. These will be Angelo Landolfi, Pantaleone Carlucci, and Walter Villadei, who trained as a cosmonaut and will serve as mission lead. Chief Astronaut at Virgin Galactic Beth Moses will also be along for the ride, but not interacting with the Italian experiments.
- Branson (in a) pickle: FAA grounds Virgin Galactic flights after billionaire's space trip veered off course
- Branson sews cash parachute for Virgin Atlantic with $300m Virgin Galactic share sale
- Richard Branson uses two planes to make 170km round trip
- Richard Branson plans to trump Jeff Bezos by 9 days in billionaires' space race
The Register asked Virgin Galactic for clarification on the component itself and what impact repair or replacement might have, but we have yet to receive a response.
Combined with the ongoing FAA investigation, the company reckons that mid-October is now the earliest date for the opening of the flight window for the Italian Air Force flight, Unity 23. A delay, sure, but nothing compared to how long it took before Richard Branson and his beard could be loaded up.
In the company's financial results for Q2 2021, it announced it was aiming for late September for Unity 23.
Virgin Galactic also set a starting price of $450,000 for a seat onboard the rocket-powered contraption, with options for couples and a "friends/family" package. ®