Virgin Galactic In-Flight Mishap: Fragment Fell Off VMS Eve

8th Feb 2024
Virgin Galactic In-Flight Mishap: Fragment Fell Off VMS Eve

During a recent space tourism expedition by Virgin Galactic, a fragment broke off from the carrier aircraft, raising concerns about potential implications for future missions. The specific issue involves a damaged alignment pin crucial for connecting the mothership, VMS Eve, with the VSS Unity spaceplane.

What Happened?

The discovery occurred during the post-flight examination of Galactic 06, a space tourist flight conducted on 26th January from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The pin, responsible for aligning the spacecraft with the mothership before the flight, had detached from the pylon of VMS Eve.

The pin played a crucial role in mating the two sections of Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft – an aircraft with twin fuselages serving as a “mothership” and a rocket designed to transport tourists to the outer limits of space.

Virgin Galactic’s aircraft elevates the rocket to an altitude of approximately 40,000 feet, after which the rocket is released to embark on its journey into space, providing passengers with a brief encounter with weightlessness. Virgin Galactic further stated that the pin functioned according to its design throughout the 45-minute flight, the first of the year, and only disengaged after the rocket had separated.

Space tourists aboard the suborbital Galactic 06 mission last month. Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic emphasized that despite the detachment, the flight was deemed safe and successful, posing no threat to the crew, carrier aircraft, or spaceplane. The company clarified that the alignment pin’s role is significant only before separation from VMS Eve, and no additional damage was identified.

Now, the company is forced to ground its mothership and delay future missions until it gets approval from the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).

The FAA Investigation

On 31st January Virgin Galactic reported the anomaly to the FAA, which subsequently confirmed that the mishap did not result in harm to public property or injuries.

“The FAA is overseeing the Virgin Galactic-led mishap investigation to ensure the company complies with its FAA-approved mishap investigation plan and other regulatory requirements,” the federal agency stated. The company must obtain FAA approval for its final report and proposed corrective actions before VSS Unity can resume flights.

Nevertheless, Virgin Galactic plans to conclude its flight campaign with the VSS Unity and transition to its next-generation “Delta-class” spacecraft, currently in development and expected to be operational in a couple of years. Despite the setback, Virgin Galactic remains committed to its upcoming Galactic 07 mission, scheduled for the second quarter of 2024, with passengers and flight crew yet to be announced.

In addition to Virgin Galactic’s incident, another aviation concern arose as a door panel flew off a Boeing 737 MAX 9 jet mid-flight on January 5. A preliminary report from U.S. investigators revealed that the door panel appeared to be missing four key bolts, providing the first official look into how the frightening mishap took shape.

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