Virgin Galactic loses small part during ‘Galactic 06’ spaceflight

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The aerospace and space travel company Virgin Galactic announced on Monday that a small alignment pin detached from its Galactic 06 spaceflight.

The alignment pin detached from the launch pylon of the company’s mothership, VMS Eve, during flight. 

The issue was found during post-flight reviews and reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday in accordance with regulations, Richard Branson’s space venture said. The company is conducting a review in conjunction with the FAA.

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Four private astronauts and two crew members were aboard the flight, the company said, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

“Galactic 06 was a safe and successful flight that was conducted in accordance with Virgin Galactic’s rigorous flight procedures and protocols,” the company said in a statement.

“At no time did the detached alignment pin pose a safety impact to the vehicles or the crew on board. Virgin Galactic flights occur in restricted airspace and at specific geographical launch locations that control the hazards to people or structures on the ground.”

The company said it also observed no damage to the spaceship or the mothership.

Virgin Galactic said the pin helps ensure the spaceship is aligned to the mothership when mating the vehicles on the ground during pre-flight procedures. 

Virgin Galactic's rocket-powered spaceplane in flight

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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. 

The shear pin fitting assembly remained both attached and intact on the mothership with no damage. 

“While both parts 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,” the company said. 

“The alignment pin and shear pin fitting assembly performed as designed during the mated portion of the flight, and only the alignment pin detached after the spaceship was released from the mothership.”

Virgin Galactic said it will provide a further update at the completion of the review and will confirm the flight window for the ‘Galactic 07’ mission, which is planned for the second quarter of 2024.

The flight was launched on Jan. 26 and marked Virgin Galactic’s first space tourism mission of 2024 after entering commercial service in 2023.

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Orbit

Virgin Galactic launched its first private astronaut mission last year. The second commercial spaceflight mission, known as Galactic 02, launched from New Mexico’s Spaceport America and into suborbital space aboard the reusable space plane VSS Unity. 

The “historic mission” flew the first Olympian and the first female astronauts from the Caribbean, as well as the youngest person to go to space and the first mother-daughter duo.

Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 by British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. 

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