ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Virgin Galactic test flight Saturday ended prematurely when the spacecraft landed safely at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico after its rocket engine failed to ignite high above the Earth.
“The ignition sequence for the rocket motor did not complete. Vehicle and crew are in great shape,” Virgin Galactic said in a brief statement on Twitter. “We have several motors ready at Spaceport America. We will check the vehicle and be back to flight soon.”
The flight was the first from Virgin Galactic’s new headquarters at Spaceport America, a futuristic desert outpost.
Before first announcing the spacecraft’s safe return to land and then the problem with the rocket, Virgin Galactic’s in-flight communications were cryptic and sparse during a 15-minute period that began with an announcement that the spacecraft was “go for release” from the aircraft that carried it to the release altitude.
A previous Virgin Galactic press release said release would occur at about 50,000 feet.
After delays due to the coronavirus pandemic and some dicey weather earlier this week, the crew had been cleared for a morning launch amid clear conditions.
The spaceship was crewed by two pilots. There was payload belonging to NASA onboard but no passengers.
The next phase of final testing for the Virgin Galactic team will involve company mission specialists and engineers being loaded into the spaceship’s passenger cabin for powered flights. They will evaluate all the hardware, camera settings and which angles will provide the best views.