Virgin Galactic's third attempt to reach space and back had to be aborted after the engine of the spaceplane cut out too early and ignited for about a second on Saturday. The vehicle’s two pilots had to glide back down to the ground but were in good health, Washington Post reported.
It was the first powered test flight from the business tycoon Richard Branson-founded company’s new home at Spaceport America, a taxpayer-funded, futuristic building in the New Mexico desert from which the company hopes to routinely fly space tourists starting next year.
The aborted engine ignition was played live by a live-stream. The video showed the spaceplane, called VSS Unity, dropping away, as planned, from its carrier aircraft in mid-air. The vehicle then briefly ignited its main engine but the ignition cut out after just a moment.
The company confirmed that VSS Unity landed safely on a runway after the abort, and the flight’s two pilots, C.J. Sturckow and Dave Mackay, made it "back safe and sound."
The company tweeted that the "ignition sequence for the rocket motor did not complete. Vehicle and crew are in great shape. We have several motors ready at Spaceport America. We will check the vehicle and be back to flight soon."
The previous two test flights, conducted in 2018 and 2019, took place out of the company’s test facility at the Mojave Air and Spaceport out of California.
A successful flight would have brought the company, an effort to open space to the masses, a step closer to flying Branson himself to space, followed by the line of people who have paid as much as $250,000 for the chance to fly on a suborbital mission, see the Earth from space and experience a few minutes of weightlessness.
With 600 initial customers signed up for flights, Virgin Galactic hopes to start flying commercial passengers for the first time in 2021.
However, with today’s hindrance, it’s unclear how Virgin Galactic will proceed from hereon.