Virgin Galactic Cleared for Flight as FAA Ends Probe

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Aviation regulator said the company did not communicate properly during the July mission that took founder Richard Branson to space

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The agency found that the company’s spacecraft deviated from the airspace it was assigned to during its landing back on Earth, and Virgin Galactic failed to report that error to the FAA as required.

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Virgin Galactic said the aviation regulator has accepted its proposals to change the way space missions are conducted. Those changes, according to the company, include designating a larger area as a protected airspace to allow for diversity for possible trajectories during missions, and taking steps to ensure that the company is able to maintain FAA airspace. – Communicates with traffic controls about flights as they are taking place.

“Updates to our airspace and real-time mission notification protocols will strengthen our preparedness as we move closer to the commercial launch of our spaceflight experience,” Virgin Galactic Chief Executive Michael Colaglier said in a statement.

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An FAA spokesman declined to comment on Virgin Galactic’s planned communication changes. A company spokesperson declined to comment.

Shares of the Las Cruces, NM-based company gained more than 10% in after-hours trading.

Virgin Galactic previously said that during its July flight, its spacecraft shifted from its planned trajectory by one minute 41 seconds due to winds, while the craft was returning to the ground. The company has said that the ship never went above population centers.

During its investigation, the FAA banned Virgin Galactic from conducting space flights. The agency controls the launch and re-entry of space vehicles and is working to better track missions to activate a new system over the summer to reduce the impact of airspace closures due to space travel.

Earlier this month, Virgin Galactic said it expected to open a window to potentially conduct its next space mission in mid-October, until the conclusion of the FAA investigation. The company also said then that it chose that time frame because it was working with a vendor to analyze a potential manufacturing defect in a component of the flight control system.

That flight, which Virgin Galactic said would be its first commercial research mission, is set to involve members of the Italian Air Force.

[email protected] . on Micah Maidenberg

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