— This is the script of CNBC's news report for China's CCTV on Sep 3, 2021, Friday.
Before the news that the U.S. FAA issued a flight ban on Virgin Galactic broke, the space-travel company just announced a cooperation with the Italian Air Force to launch its first paid commercial research mission. Shares of Virgin Galactic rose more than 5% during the early trading session on Thursday but headed south as the flight ban was confirmed. The stock dropped as much as 7% during the session.
American magazine New Yorker first reported the story that on July 11th, when the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicle carrying British billionaire Richard Branson and several other passengers to space was about one minute into the trip, a yellow caution light appeared on the ship's console, warning the ship veering off course. At that time, the craft was about twenty miles, or 32 km above the ground, and was traveling at a speed more than twice that of sound. The yellow light was a warning that the flight path was too shallow and the nose of the ship was insufficiently vertical. Several people who are familiar with the matter disclosed that red light also flashed during the same trip, warning of a risk even bigger than a wayward trajectory.
In a statement provided to CNBC, the FAA said that the craft "flew outside its designated airspace for 1 minute and 41 seconds". The FAA is overseeing an investigation and "Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety," the authority said in the statement.
"At no time were passengers and crew put in any danger as a result of this change in trajectory," Virgin Galactic said in a statement to CNBC. It said the trajectory was pushed off course by "high altitude winds" but that "our pilots responded appropriately." Despite the firm's explanation, the safety of travel, especially for space tourism, receives further attention.
As the New Yorker points out, space missions are risky. Around 1.4% of Russian, Soviet, and American crewed spaceflight missions resulted in fatalities. A fatal accident happened during Virgin Galactic's previous flight test. Although Branson and Bezos' successful trips help fuel public interest in space travel, many are still taking a wait-and-see approach due to safety considerations.
Branson sold about $300 million worth of Virgin Galactic stocks after finishing his trip into space, making people calling for strengthening regulations on space tourism.