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The FAA has blocked Virgin Galactic flights and is investigating the flight operated with Richard Branson on board.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on Thursday that Virgin Galactic could not operate flights in space until an investigation into an accident during the July flight, which had Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic, on board.
The ban came at the request of Virgin Galactic to operate a new flight, which was supposed to have three Italian researchers on board. The FAA said the rocket carrying Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic employees veered off course during the descent back to New Mexico on July 11.
The deviation from the trajectory put the ship out of the air traffic control area. The FAA oversees operations and is responsible for protecting the public during commercial launches and re-entries. Crew safety, on the other hand, is outside its jurisdiction. Virgin Galactic insisted on Thursday that Branson and everyone else on board were never in danger.
The Virgin Galactic shuttle has deviated from the descent path
Virgin Galactic acknowledged that the space plane fell under the protected airspace for one minute and 41 seconds. The free-flying portion of the spacecraft up and down lasted about 15 minutes and reached an altitude of 53,5 miles (86 kilometers).
Virgin Galactic mentioned that the high altitude wind caused the flight trajectory to change and insisted that the two pilots "acted accordingly". In a statement, the company said the flight was "a safe and successful test flight that adhered to flight procedures and training protocols."
Virgin Galactic hopes to be able to operate the next flight to the edge of space in late September or early October. There should be two Italian Air Force officers on board; an engineer for the Italian National Research Council; astronaut Virgin Galactic's chief instructor and the ship's two pilots. It will be the first launch of the company in which researchers accompany their own experiments. The company plans to start ticketing flights next year.