The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has banned Virgin Galactic from launching the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. According to Reuters, the ban will remain in effect until the agency receives the results of an investigation into the spacecraft's critical deviations during a July test flight.
As noted by The New Yorker, during the Virgin Galactic flight on July 11 with billionaire Richard Branson on board, the rocket deviated greatly from its course and even went beyond the allocated airspace, putting other aircraft at risk.
The thing is that the spacecraft from Virgin Galactic is unique as compared to its competitors. While Blue Origin and SpaceX use traditional vertical launch rockets that are automated by engineers and can be launched without people on board, Virgin Galactic uses a crewed spacecraft. Therefore, its each test flight is practically a matter of life and death.
In comparison, SpaceX performed many test launches before the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon were certified for manned space travel. Blue Origin also conducted over a dozen launches before putting people on board.
During the flight on July 11, the Unity-22 spacecraft was flying too horizontally and eventually went off course. Not only did the spacecraft's trajectory jeopardize the mission (it might simply have not reached the expected altitude), but it also compromised the rocket's chances of staying in the predetermined airspace.
The pilots could not correct the trajectory error, so the safest action would be to abort the mission. However, a failure at that moment would have ruined Branson's hopes to become the first billionaire in space.
Virgin Galactic cannot continue to use SpaceShipTwo for space flights until the FAA approves a final incident investigation report or determines that public safety is not in danger.
In response to this announcement, Virgin Galactic stated that the company is cooperating with the aviation administration, and they are working to determine how to prevent trajectory deviation in future missions.