Virgin Galactic’s paid spaceflights have suffered yet another setback. According to Reuters, Virgin has pushed back the launch of Unity 23, its first commercial research flight, until mid-October.
The mission was supposed to take place in late September or early October, but Virgin said a supplier warned of a possible “manufacturing defect” in the flight control actuation system.
It’s unclear whether the defect exists in Virgin’s vehicles or whether any repairs are required. Virgin stated that the launch was being postponed due to a “abundance of caution.”
Three members of the Italian Air Force will participate in the mission to investigate the effects of transitioning from Earth’s gravity to microgravity on humans and the environment.
Virgin clarified that this was unrelated to the FAA’s investigation into a deviation from the cleared flight path. When the flight takes off is also contingent on the FAA lifting a temporary ban on Virgin flights once the investigation is completed.
During test flight preparations, Virgin Galactic said a third-party supplier warned of a potential manufacturing defect in a component of the flight control system.
“At this point, it is not yet known whether the defect is present in the company’s vehicles and what, if any, repair work may be needed,” the company said, adding that the inspections were being conducted with the vendor.
The mission was originally scheduled to fly three paying crew members from the Italian Air Force and the Rome-based government agency National Research Council in late September or early October.
The mission, which will carry three paying crew members from the Air Force and the Rome-based government agency National Research Council, will take place in late September or early October, according to the space travel company.
The crew will investigate the effects of transitioning from gravity to a low-gravity environment on the human body, as well as provide information for future spaceflight systems and technologies.
In July, the company stated that it intends to conduct at least two more test flights of the spaceplane before beginning regular commercial operations in 2022.
According to Chief Executive Michael Colglazier, one of those flights will transport four Italian astronauts-in-training.
The FAA is investigating the July flight that took billionaire Richard Branson to space, and SpaceShipTwo flights were halted last week until the agency approved the final mishap report or determined that the issues do not pose a threat to public safety.
The FAA has barred Virgin Galactic from flying its SpaceShipTwo until the agency approves its final mishap investigation report from its July flight or determines that the issues do not pose a threat to public safety.
It’s understandable that Virgin would be extra cautious. The company is still dealing with the fallout from its 2014 crash, and it’s under more pressure than ever now that it’s getting paid research customers and, eventually, regular passengers. Delays like this may irritate Virgin as it tries to turn a profit, but they might be worth it if they build trust and lead to more customers.