The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is carrying out a “mishap investigation” after Virgin Galactic notified the agency that a small part separated from its mothership, VMS Eve, during its last space flight.
In a statement on February 5, 2024, Virgin Galactic said that post-flight reviews, following its most recent spaceflight ‘Galactic 06’, found that an alignment pin detached from the launch pylon on VMS Eve.
The company confirmed that it advised the FAA of the incident on January 31, 2024, five days after the ‘Galactic 06’ space tourist flight took place.
According to CNN, the alignment pin was found on the underbelly of VMS Eve.
“Galactic 06 was a safe and successful flight that was conducted in accordance with Virgin Galactic’s rigorous flight procedures and protocols. At no time did the detached alignment pin pose a safety impact to the vehicles or the crew on board,” Virgin Galactic said in its statement.
The company also confirmed that no damage was found on either VMS Eve or to the spaceship, VSS Unity.
According to Virgin Galactic the alignment pin helps ensure VSS Unity and the mothership are aligned when connected on the ground before spaceflight.
“During mated flight, as the vehicles climb towards release altitude, the alignment pin helps transfer drag and other forces from the spaceship to the shear pin fitting assembly and into the pylon and center wing of the mothership,” Virgin Galactic explained.
Virgin Galactic said that while the “pin and the shear pin fitting play a role during mated flight, they do not support the spaceship’s weight, nor do they have an active function once the spaceship is released”.
Virgin Galactic confirmed that both pin and the shear pin fitting performed their function as designed during the flight and the part only detached after the VSS Unity was released.
The FAA said in response that it must approve Virgin Galactic’s final report into the incident before any future flights can be carried out.
“A return to flight is based on the FAA determining that any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety, In addition, Virgin Galactic must request and receive approval from the FAA to modify its license that incorporates the corrective actions and meets all other licensing requirements,” the FAA said in a statement given to CNN.
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