Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc shortened the test flight of its suborbital SpaceShipTwo Unity aircraft on Saturday and safely sent its pilot back to Spaceport America, New Mexico after the rocket engine ignition procedure failed to complete.
Richard Branson’s space travel company is preparing for commercial flights next year. The company’s goal is to send the air-launched Unity space plane to an altitude of up to 50 miles to test its cabin experience and Booster in flight.
The suborbital space plane was carried by a twin-fuselage mothership called White Knight 2 to an altitude of approximately 44,000 feet (13410 meters). It disengaged from the carrier aircraft around 9:15 a.m. local time, but the live video stream appeared to show that the engine only fired for a while.
“The ignition sequence for the rocket motor did not complete,” Virgin Galactic said on Twitter. “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 flight of Unity was intended to gather crucial test data needed to advance its commercial spaceflight license with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration before flying customers for the first time next year.
For $250,000 a ticket, passengers who have signed up for the suborbital flight aboard the rocket-powered plane will strap into six custom seats and peer out of the cabin’s 12 circular windows as they ascend some 60 miles above Earth.
The company was founded by the British billionaire Branson in 2004. Currently, 600 customers have signed up to fly, and there are more than 400 interested customers. Branson is expected to be one of the first flights. One.