A December 12 Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo test flight was aborted seconds after being released from its carrier aircraft. Following the automated abort, the VSS Unity returned to Spaceport America in New Mexico touching down safely approximately 10 minutes later.
The Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo took off from Spaceport America at 15:24 UTC carrying the VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo vehicle. After climbing to launch altitude, VSS Unity, piloted by Dave Mackay and former NASA astronaut CJ Sturckow, was released.
Seconds after ignition, the vehicle’s hybrid rocket engine shut down aborting the flight. Mackay and Sturckow were able to successfully glide VSS Unity back to the New Mexico spaceport touching down safely at 15:27 UTC.
In an update later the same day, Virgin Galactic CEO, Michael Colglazier said that an onboard computer used to monitor the vehicle’s hybrid rocket engine lost connection prompting an automatic abort.
Virgin Galactic has already begun examining data from the flight to ascertain the root cause of the loss of connection, said Colglazier. With additional motors already complete and ready for installation, the company expects little delay before the next powered flight attempt.
Over 10 years since the vehicle’s first glide test, SpaceShipTwo is yet to make its maiden commercial flight. The failed December 12 SpaceShipTwo flight was the first powered attempt since February 2019. Although a not-insignificant portion of the delay between flights is due to the ongoing global pandemic, upgrades to the vehicle that included the installation of a passenger cabin have also contributed.