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Virgin Galactic Finds Possible Issue with Its Spaceship, Begins Update Program

Just a few short days after Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin managed to take William Shatner beyond the Karman line (at 90, the actor is now the oldest person to have done so), the competitors from Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic announced they’re not quite launching their next flight as planned.
VSS Unity 10 photos
Virgin Galactic has its first passenger flight, with Richard Branson as astronaut 001 on itVirgin Galactic has its first passenger flight, with Richard Branson as astronaut 001 on itVirgin Galactic has its first passenger flight, with Richard Branson as astronaut 001 on itVirgin Galactic has its first passenger flight, with Richard Branson as astronaut 001 on itVirgin Galactic has its first passenger flight, with Richard Branson as astronaut 001 on itVirgin Galactic has its first passenger flight, with Richard Branson as astronaut 001 on itVirgin Galactic has its first passenger flight, with Richard Branson as astronaut 001 on itVirgin Galactic has its first passenger flight, with Richard Branson as astronaut 001 on itVirgin Galactic has its first passenger flight, with Richard Branson as astronaut 001 on it
For all intents and purposes, out of the three major private space companies now fighting for supremacy (the two we’ve already mentioned, plus SpaceX), it’s probably Virgin that will remain in history as the first one to have taken civilians to space. The company’s founder, alongside a small crew, flew to the edge of space back in early July, just before Blue Origin did the same. That was, in essence, flight 22 of the VSS Unity spaceship.

Flight 23 was announced shortly after as the “first commercial research mission.” It was supposed to carry “three paying crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council.”

The mission was in doubt for a while, as the FAA started investigating some issues during flight 22, but was cleared at the end of September. Although an exact launch date for the mission was not announced, it now looks like the Italians will have to wait some more.

In a statement released this week, Virgin says it will begin “its planned enhancement program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity.” The updates target improvements in vehicles’ performance and flight rate capability, but the prep work for them revealed something a bit worrying.

According to the company, tests conducted on the spaceship found “a possible reduction in the strength margins of certain materials used to modify specific joints.” No other details are provided, but Virgin claims “this new lab test data has had no impact on the vehicles.”

Even so, further physical inspection will be conducted, and pairing that with the enhancement program means flight 23 will have to wait some more. Again, no details on when that will happen have been given.

After the Italians make it to space during what is still considered a flight test, Virgin might finally begin commercial operations.

press release
 
 
 
 
 

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