Virgin Galactic has decided to delay a SpaceShipTwo suborbital voyage slated for this month, instead opting to immediately start an extended repair period for the spaceplane as well as its carrier aircraft, delaying the commencement of commercial flights even further. After the latest lab test of materials utilized on the vehicles “flagged a potential decrease in the strength limits of certain materials utilized to modify specific joints” that “requires further physical inspection,” the company said on October 14 that it decided to move forward with a planned maintenance period.
“While this new lab test data had no effect on the vehicles, our flight test processes have clearly specified strength margins, and further research will determine whether any extra work is needed to keep them above or at established levels,” Virgin Galactic said. “Given the time commitment, the Company has determined that the most efficient and quickest approach to commercial service is to conduct this work concurrently with the planned upgrade program.”
As a result of this decision, Unity 23, an Italian Air Force mission slated for mid-October, will be postponed until after the repair period is over next year. The flight was originally slated for late September or even early October, but it was postponed to investigate a possible manufacturing fault with a component in the flight control actuation system.
This new problem is unrelated to the previous investigation, according to Virgin Galactic. The component in question was not located on either the WhiteKnightTwo or the SpaceShipTwo aircraft, and the business “performed extensive checks and scans that found all components fulfilled quality and safety criteria and were ready for takeoff,” according to the corporation.
In early September, the FAA temporarily banned Virgin Galactic’s launch authorization while it examined why SpaceShipTwo had flown outside of its designated airspace on its previous mission in July. The FAA completed its inquiry and gave the green light for SpaceShipTwo to take to the skies on September 29.
The beginning of the maintenance time, which Virgin Galactic had announced in August, was delayed by a month as a result of these studies. The business said in August that commercial flights would begin in the late third quarter of the year 2022. After the postponed Unity 23 flight, it now expects those trips to start in the 4th quarter of 2022. “The rescheduling of our enhancement phase and the Unity 23 trip reaffirms our safety-first protocols, provides the most efficient road to commercial service, and is also the correct approach for our company and our consumers,” said Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier in a statement.