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Science & Tech: Virgin Galactic Grounded After Pin 'detaches' On

SCIENCE & TECH: Virgin Galactic grounded after pin ‘detaches’ on space tourism voyage

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In space, no one can hear a pin drop.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic was forced to ground its rocket after a part fell off during its first space tourism flight of 2024.

The “alignment pin detached” during its most recent spaceflight, Galactic 06, on Jan. 26, the company announced Tuesday.

The pin was used to hold together the two halves of the Virgin Galactic spaceship — the “mothership” VMS Eve that pilots the voyage and the rocket that carries tourists into outer space.

Eight people were on board when the incident occurred — four pilots divided among the two aircraft and four people who paid for the commercial trip beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

Tickets for the out-of-this-world experience cost roughly $450,000.

Fortunately, the loosened piece did not pose any safety impact to the craft or those on board, who returned unharmed to the Virgin Galactic launch pad in New Mexico.

The company became aware of the detached pin only after it conducted post-flight reviews of the aircraft.

“No public injuries or public property damage have been reported,” the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed.

The spacecraft was grounded, however, while the FAA investigated what they called a “mishap.”

The alignment pin is used to ensure that the rocket carrying the tourists is aligned to the mothership when mating the vehicles on the ground during pre-flight procedures.

An alignment pin detached from a Virgin Galactic spacecraft during its most recent voyage to outer space. Virgin Galactic/AFP via Getty Images

“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 company said.

“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 paired aircraft typically stays attached to the mothership until it reaches a height of 45,000 feet.

The company discovered the detached pin after the rocket had returned to Earth’s surface. Virgin Galactic/AFP via Getty Images

Virgin Galactic is required to conduct a final report, including any corrective actions, that must be approved by the FAA before another flight can take off.

The company is planning another voyage — its seventh ever — for the second quarter of 2024.

Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004. REUTERS

Virgin Galactic enjoyed its first commercial outer space trip in August 2023, nearly 20 years after Branson founded the company.

It has since made six trips beyond Earth’s atmosphere, the most recent of which suffered the alignment detachment.



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