- Parabolic Arc
- June 2, 2023
Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Suffers In-flight Engine Abort, Lands at Spacport America
by Douglas Messier
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity suffered an in-flight abort on Saturday after its hybrid fired for about one second before shutting down.
VSS Unity descended rapidly after the engine cut out followed by a trail of smoke and/or vented nitrous oxide. Pilots David MacKay and C.J. Sturkow glided back to a runway landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
“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,” Virgin Galactic tweeted.
VSS Unity was dropped from its WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve mother ship at 9:16 a.m. MST. The spacecraft was to have burned its rubber-nitrous oxide hybrid engine for 60 seconds to fly above 50 miles (80.4 km).
VSS Unity was carrying a load of NASA scientific and technical payloads. The flight was to have tested improved the vehicle’s improved flight control system and vertical stabilizers.
It was a disappointing return to flight VSS Unity, which has not flown under power in nearly 22 months. The company conducted suborbital flights on Dec. 13, 2018 and Feb. 22, 2019 from Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
The much advertised launch would have been Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital test from Spaceport America, where it plans to begin commercial space tourism flights sometime next year.
Virgin Galactic had planned two other powered flight tests after this one before beginning commercial service. That schedule has now been scrambled by today’s aborted launch attempt.
This story is developing. It will be updated when more information becomes available.
19 responses to “Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Suffers In-flight Engine Abort, Lands at Spacport America”
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Thank goodness they made it back safe… and it does demonstrate that this abort mode works.
However, I have to wonder how much this is driven by the low cadence of their test program and/or the fundamental constraint of a hybrid (i.e. no way to test fire that specific motor before launch)?
Yes, you really have to wonder if it will ever be safe enough for tourists to fly on.
Or even steely-eyed missile men which is what NASA, at least tentatively, has in mind.
From pretty much any perspective, this latest misadventure isn’t going to help. Still, any landing you can walk away from…
Cadence can do two things, make everybody familiar with the system but it could also lead to complacence if everything is unicorns and pixies for a long stretch. I do agree that they need more flights or people will get rusty. I also imagine that many personnel have changed since the last powered flight. A paying job is one thing, but a job where you don’t do what you signed on to do month after month can get boring.
Oh, good they are safe, no big deal and try again in next two years
Glad they are safe! They have had their share of deadly accidents and don’t need another one.
Taxpayers have really benefited from Spaceport America. All the jobs and tourism revenue…
And Dona Ana County wants their refund of misused spaceport funds. And Sierra County got cut-out by the shortcut highway to Las Cruces. Meanwhile, Las Cruces International Airport hasn’t had a scheduled airline flight since the first year New Mexico residents started funding Spaceport America. The 5,000 jobs by 2020 don’t exist. Everybody looses! Except VG, who has generated competitive spaceports at Denver, Jacksonville, Houston, Midland, Burns Flat. Did I miss any? Mojave was more than plenty for the entire industry that’s developed over the past 20 years of space tourism hustle.
Will the first planeloads be allowed to fly drunk? I’m just a skeptic who has been paying my spaceport tax for five years for Spaceport Camden.
There are 4 sites in the UK. Are they real? Eh. Are any of the sites you mentioned real? None of them are as real as Spaceport America, which can now boast of one very real aborted launch.
Props to VG for trying and not killing anyone.
Also the UAE.
SA, the Dems answer to the GOP’s SLS/Orion; IOW a job’s program.
Doug – How long will it take to replace the rocket motor? Minor point – typo in title: Spaceport America.
Does Virgin Galactic still use a Hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) fuel with a liquid nitrous oxide oxidizer. I believe they make their own hybrid rocket motors.
Replacing the motor should not be the long pole. They replace it after every flight.
If it’s just a straight motor replacement the turn around shouldn’t be very long (day or two). The question is why they aborted. The pilots might have seen something they didn’t like which could be anything from an aircraft issue to unacceptable turbulence. If they heard a big bang after lighting the motor, that might mean more than a routine engine swap.
VG says they have more motors on hand so if it was something simple, they may still be trying to hit the Karman line later this year.
So, the motor can be easily replaced in about two years huh
Can’t rush these things else the quality might suffer.
Reports are that it was a loose computer connection that shut the engine off.
Did it vibrate loose? Really, this seems a peculiar fault at this stage.
even vibration shaking that loose, would be weird.
Unless it was not tighten properly during preparation. It will be interesting to see if they release the results of the investigation into it.