Branson’s Virgin Galactic Cuts Brief Check Flight from New Mexico Spaceport By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Sir Richard Branson appears on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange about to begin trading Virgin Galactic in New York

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From Joey Roulette

(Reuters) -Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc aborted a test flight of its SpaceShipTwo Unity suborbital aircraft on Saturday and safely returned its pilots to Spaceport America in New Mexico after the rocket engine firing sequence failed.

Richard Branson’s space tourism company, which is preparing for commercial flights for the next year, wanted to send the air-launched Unity spaceplane up to 80 kilometers to test its cabin experience and boosters in flight.

The suborbital spacecraft was lifted from its two-hull mothership, called the White Knight 2, to an altitude of approximately 13,410 meters. It detached from the carrier aircraft at around 9:15 a.m. local time, but a live video stream appeared to show the engines firing only for a brief moment.

“The firing sequence for the rocket motor did not complete,” Virgin Galactic said on Twitter. “Vehicle and crew are in excellent shape. We have several engines ready at Spaceport America. We will check the vehicle and be back soon.”

Unity’s flight should collect critical test data necessary to advance commercial space license with the US Federal Aviation Administration, before first flying customers next year.

For $ 250,000 per ticket, passengers who signed up for the suborbital flight aboard the rocket-propelled aircraft buckle up six custom seats and look out the cabin’s 12 circular windows as they ascend approximately 60 miles above earth.

Founded in 2004 by British billionaire Branson, the company has 600 customers who have signed up for the flight and more than 400 others who have expressed an interest. Branson is expected to be on board one of the first flights.

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