Virgin Galactic has reported on February 5th an incident involving the detachment of an alignment pin from its mothership, VMS Eve, during the “Galactic 06” spaceflight. The company disclosed this anomaly during routine post-flight assessments following the mission.
The incident came to light during meticulous reviews conducted by the company’s team, prompting Virgin Galactic to notify the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on January 31, adhering to regulatory protocols.
Both Virgin Galactic and the FAA are now engaged in a thorough review process to investigate the matter.
No danger, but investigation ongoing
Despite the detachment of the alignment pin, Virgin Galactic reassured in a statement that the “Galactic 06” mission was executed safely and successfully, aligning with the company’s stringent flight procedures and protocols. Importantly, “at no time did the detached alignment pin pose a safety impact to the vehicles or the crew on board,” the company stated.
Virgin Galactic’s flights operate within restricted airspace and designated launch locations, minimizing potential hazards to ground personnel and structures. Furthermore, observations following the mission indicated no damage to either the spaceship or the mothership.
The alignment pin, integral for ensuring proper alignment between the spaceship and the mothership during pre-flight procedures, performed its function as designed during the mated portion of the flight. During ascent towards release altitude, the alignment pin facilitates the transfer of forces from the spaceship to the shear pin fitting assembly and into the mothership’s pylon and center wing.
It’s important to note that neither the alignment pin nor the shear pin fitting assembly supports the spaceship’s weight or have active roles post-release.
Virgin Galactic emphasizes that the shear pin fitting assembly remained intact and attached to the mothership, with no signs of damage. The detachment of the alignment pin occurred only after the spaceship was released from the mothership, indicating that both components functioned correctly during the critical phases of the flight.
The company refrained from providing further details on the matter or clarifying the rationale behind its public announcement, which occurred five days after informing the FAA — which happened on January 31.
Looking ahead, Virgin Galactic plans to provide further updates upon the completion of the review process. Additionally, the company aims to confirm the flight window for its next mission, “Galactic 07”, scheduled for the second quarter of 2024.