FAA clears Virgin Galactic to fly after investigation

Virgin Galactic has announced that it has been cleared to resume flight operations by the FAA. Virgin Galactic had been grounded following the conclusion of an FAA inquiry focusing on the spacecraft wandering outside of its flight clearance zone on its Unity 22 flight in July. The FAA has confirmed that Virgin had accepted the corrective actions bringing an end to the inquiry that started on August 11.

The corrective actions include using updated calculations to expand the protected airspace for future Virgin Galactic flights. That action will provide a larger area to ensure there's enough protected airspace for possible flight trajectories during future missions. The FAA also added additional steps to the flight procedures to ensure real-time mission notifications are sent to FAA Air Traffic Control.

Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colgazer said the company's approach to spaceflight is guided by a "fundamental commitment" to safety. The executive says Virgin appreciates the thorough review by the FAA, noting updates to airspace and real-time mission notification protocols will improve the company's flight preparations in the future. The company is working towards the commercial launch of its spaceflight system.

With the FAA inquiry out of the way and Unity missions cleared to fly again, Virgin Galactic is currently focusing on pre-flight readiness for the Unity 23 mission. Unity 23 is a test flight performed in cooperation with the Italian Air Force. Currently, the flight window for the mission opens in mid-October.

Earlier this month, Virgin Galactic confirmed that during its preparations for Unity 23, a third-party supplier flagged potential manufacturing defects in a component of the spacecraft's flight control actuation system. Virgin is clear it wasn't sure if the defect was present in its spacecraft, and inspections were being conducted in partnership with the vendor. It's unclear at this time if those inspections have been completed.