Defective flight control system part delays Virgin Galactic's Unity 23
Richard Branson-led Virgin Galactic has been forced to postpone its first commercial research flight named Unity 23. The cause of the delay has been reported to be a manufacturing defect in the flight control actuation system. Moreover, the company isn't cleared for spaceflight until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concludes an ongoing investigation and lifts its temporary ban. Here are more details.
The Unity 23 flight was slated for sometime in late September or early October. However, Virgin Galactic has pushed the launch date back to mid-October. This is because a third-party supplier warned of a potential "manufacturing defect" in a component of the flight control system during test flight preparations. Virgin Galactic said the launch has been delayed with an "abundance of caution."
Reuters reported that at this point, Virgin Galactic doesn't know whether the defect is present in the company's vehicles and if any remedial measures or repair work may be needed. The spaceflight company added that it is conducting inspections with the vendor. The flight will carry a paying crew of three from the Italian Air Force and Rome-based government agency National Research Council.
However, the rectification of this defect alone won't clear Unity 23 for flight. The FAA is still investigating the flight that flew billionaire Branson to space in July because the flight reportedly went off-course for over a minute during descent. Last week, the FAA barred SpaceShipTwo flights until it approves the final mishap report or concludes that the issues don't affect public safety.
The ongoing FAA investigation also explains why Virgin Galactic is treading carefully and taking precautions despite growing frustrations and the race to become a profitable business listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Not to mention, the Virgin Galactic brand is still associated with the SpaceShipTwo crash in 2014 and under pressure from paying customers to ensure safe spaceflight.