Capitalism in space: Virgin Galactic announced yesterday that it is now delaying the next manned flight of its suborbital Unity spaceship in order to address what appear to be still unresolved technical problems that almost caused the last manned flight to crash.
In an earnings call Feb. 25 timed to the release of its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financial results, company executives blamed an aborted test flight of SpaceShipTwo Dec. 12 on electromagnetic interference (EMI) that caused a flight computer to reboot just as the vehicle ignited its hybrid rocket engine. The vehicle glided to a safe landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, said a new flight control computer system is the likely source of increased levels of EMI. The company took steps to shield components from that interference to avoid a similar reboot and prepared to make a powered test flight as soon as Feb. 13. But in the final days of preparations, technicians noted continued EMI issues with vehicle systems.
The flight they had hoped to do this month has now been pushed back to May. They have also announced that then devote the rest of this year doing more test flights and will hold off any tourist flights until ’22.
Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said the company is sticking to the flight test program it announced last fall. The May flight will be followed by two more: one with two pilots and a “full cabin” of company employees to test the passenger cabin of the vehicle, followed by one with company founder Richard Branson on board. Colglazier said the company isn’t yet announcing specific dates for those flights, but expects both to take place this summer.
That will be followed by a flight for the Italian Air Force, confirming an agreement signed in October 2019. That flight will carry a set of research payloads and three Italian payload specialists, and generate revenue for the company. Colglazier said that flight would likely take place in late summer or early fall and generate revenue for the company, “and will conclude our product test program.”
The company also claims that its second SpaceShipTwo spacecraft will begin testing this summer.
We shall see. The track record of this company has been abysmal, and its been that way for almost two decades of non-achievement.
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