Spaceflight Insider

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo after ‘mishap’ report

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity coasts toward apogee after its first spaceflight from New Mexico's Spaceport America. Credit: Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity coasts toward apogee after its first spaceflight from New Mexico’s Spaceport America. Credit: Virgin Galactic

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo program after a “mishap” occurred on the company’s last crewed flight into space.

The July 11, 2021, flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo “Unity” included two pilots and four passengers that consisted of company employees, including billionaire Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin companies.

While the flight was a success overall, with the six occupants traveling on a quick suborbital hop into space using the manually-piloted spaceplane, it appears the spacecraft deviated from its trajectory during the rocket-powered portion of the flight as well as on the glide back to the runway at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

As such, the FAA has grounded SpaceShipTwo while it investigates why the spacecraft deviated from its airspace. Commercial space transportation launch and reentry sequences fall under the regulatory agency’s responsibility.

“Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety,” the FAA said in a statement to CNBC.

According to The New Yorker, which first reported this story, a yellow warning light came on inside the spacecraft during ascent as Unity’s rocket engine was firing, indicating the vehicle was veering off its trajectory.

The New Yorker story was published Sept. 1, nearly two months after the flight.

A few seconds after the yellow light, according to the report, a red warning light appeared signaling an entry glide-cone warning, alerting the pilots that they weren’t flying steeply enough during ascent.

Initially the FAA issued a statement that it was “investigating” the incident only to, hours later, issue an updated statement saying it was grounding Virgin Galactic from further space flight until the issues with Unity 22 are identified and resolutions are in place.

The company recently announced it was planning another flight with passengers as early as October. Depending on how long the investigation lasts, that flight could be postponed.

Video courtesy of Virgin Galactic


Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.

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Not space, just orbiting in upper atmosphere.

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