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Virgin Galactic aborts first powered-flight attempt from Spaceport America

Virgin Galactic aborts first powered-flight attempt from Spaceport America


Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight system in the air.

Virgin Galactic

A long-awaited rocket-powered flight over the southern New Mexico desert on Saturday was much shorter than Virgin Galactic and its founder, Richard Branson, were hoping for.

The company’s WhiteKnightTwo aircraft took off from Spaceport America at 7:24 a.m. PT (8:24 a.m. MT), carrying the passenger spacecraft SpaceShipTwo Unity. The pair then spent about 45 minutes climbing to release altitude at more than 40,000 feet (12,192 meters).

About 50 minutes after takeoff, a livestream from appeared to show Unity separating and its rocket engine firing for just about a second before shutting down early.

“The ignition sequence for the rocket motor did not complete,” the company reported later on Twitter. “Vehicle and crew are in great shape. We have several motors ready at Spaceport America. We will check the vehicle and be back to flight soon.”

Unity glided back for a landing at Spaceport America, and the company confirmed that all pilots and vehicles are safe and secure.

After years of development and delays due to a fatal accident and now the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s hope to send Branson and then paying customers to space by 2020 had already been dashed even before this aborted test flight.

Virgin has completed powered test flights from California. But it aims to perform two test flights from its commercial home base in New Mexico before Branson finally gets to take the joyride he’s been waiting (and paying) for since the company’s founding in 2004.

Saturday’s flight was also carrying some small payloads for NASA. It’s not yet clear when the company will try again.

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