Virgo Galactic attempted a test flight of its SpaceShipTwo Unity spacecraft on Saturday but the flight was canceled after the spacecraft detached from its carrier aircraft. A resilience prevented the Unity rocket engines from igniting because the computer that monitors the rockets has somehow lost its connection to the rocket engines themselves, Virgin Galactic announced on Monday.
The fail-safe shutdown meant that both SpaceShipTwo Unity and the carrier aircraft, along with all of the pilots on board, would return safely to Earth to land successfully without incident. However, the test flight was supposed to extend into space, and this would have been a major stage event to clear the way for the flight of the first actual paying passengers from the company's New Mexico spaceport.
Virgo Galactic has already been flown twice into space, including first in 2018 and then again in 2019. However, this would have been the first suborbital space flight from New Mexico. However, this is a required preparatory step before he can serve commercial customers from his operating base there.
"Virgin Galactic is now conducting post-flight analysis and so far has reported that the on-board computer monitoring the propulsion system has lost its connection, creating a fail-safe scenario that deliberately stopped the rocket motor from igniting," Virgin shared in a blog post with detailing what happened during the test. “Like others in the spaceship, this system is designed to be placed in a safe state by default if the power supply or communication with sensors is interrupted. The pilots in the spacecraft, as well as the engineers and pilots in mission control, are well prepared for non-nominal results as they plan and rehearse many possible scenarios during pre-flight simulation exercises, including a scenario where the rocket motor ignites upon discharge not from the mothership. "
Obviously, this is not an ideal result for the publicly traded space tourism company, and the market's reaction reflects disappointment among public investors. Michael Colglazer, CEO of Virgin Galactic, stated that while the conclusion of this test is far from nominal, it shows that its security measures are working as planned. He added that they will continue their flight test program, albeit with one iteration of that program, before proceeding.