Virgin Galactic reports flight issue to FAA

The Virgin Galactic mothership VMS Eve in flight.
Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) has advised that during routine post-flight reviews following its most recent spaceflight, ‘Galactic 06,’ it became aware that an alignment pin detached from the launch pylon of the mothership, VMS Eve, during flight.

The company subsequently notified the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on January 31 in accordance with regulations and is presently conducting a review in conjunction with the US aviation regulator.

The Incident: Alignment Pin Detachment

During routine post-flight reviews following the ‘Galactic 06’ spaceflight, Virgin Galactic discovered that an alignment pin detached from the launch pylon of their mothership, VMS Eve, while in flight.

This discovery led the company to notify the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on January 31, adhering to regulatory protocols, and initiate a review process in collaboration with the regulatory body.

No Impact on Flight Safety

Despite the detachment of the alignment pin, it’s crucial to emphasize that the ‘Galactic 06’ spaceflight proceeded safely and successfully, in accordance with Virgin Galactic’s set flight procedures and protocols.

Importantly, the detached alignment pin did not pose any safety risks to the vehicles or the crew onboard.

Virgin Galactic’s flights operate within restricted airspace and designated geographical launch locations, minimizing hazards to individuals and structures on the ground.

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Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic

Understanding the Role of Alignment Pin

The alignment pin plays a vital role in ensuring proper alignment between the spaceship and the mothership during pre-flight procedures on the ground.

During the mated portion of the flight, as the vehicles ascend towards release altitude, the alignment pin facilitates the transfer of drag and other forces from the spaceship to the shear pin fitting assembly, ultimately distributing them into the mothership’s pylon and center wing.

It is important to note that while both the alignment pin and shear pin fitting assembly contribute to the mated flight process, they are not load bearing. In other words, they do not bear the structural weight of the spacecraft nor remain active post-release.

Performance Evaluation

Despite the detachment of the alignment pin, the shear pin fitting assembly remained securely attached to the mothership without any damage, affirming its effectiveness in maintaining structural integrity during the flight.

It’s worth highlighting that both components functioned as designed during the mated portion of the flight, with the alignment pin detachment occurring only after the spaceship was released from the mothership.

Future Plans and Transparency

Looking ahead, Virgin Galactic remains committed to transparency and ensuring the highest standards of safety and performance.

The company has pledged to provide further updates upon the completion of the review process and will confirm the flight window for the upcoming ‘Galactic 07’ mission, slated for the second quarter of 2024.

About Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is an aerospace and space travel company, pioneering human spaceflight for private individuals and researchers with its advanced air and space vehicles.

Scale and profitability are driven by next generation vehicles capable of bringing humans to space at an unprecedented frequency with an industry-leading cost structure.

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Virgin Galactic has advised the FAA of a recent incident involving the detachment of an alignment pin from its mothership VMS Eve during flight
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