ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – A window is set to open for Virgin Galactic to make another attempt at a rocket-powered flight from New Mexico to the fringe of space, but the company announced Friday it would be holding off on a new effort.
Virgin Galactic said in a social media post that during pre-flight preparations, it was decided more time was needed for technical checks and the team would be working to identify the next opportunity to hit what would be a key milestone as the promise of commercial flights continues to loom.
The last attempt in December was cut short when computer trouble prevented the spaceship’s rocket from firing properly. Instead of soaring toward space, the ship and its two pilots were forced to make an immediate landing by gliding back down to the runway at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Over the past week, preparations for the latest attempt included installing the rocket motor into the spacecraft and checking the operation of a feathering system that slows and stabilizes the craft as it re-enters the atmosphere.
The spacecraft also was secured to the carrier plane that will fly it to a high altitude, where it will be released so it can fire its rocket motor and make the final push to space.
The suborbital flights are designed to reach an altitude of at least 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) before the rocket motor is turned off and the crew prepares to reenter the atmosphere and glide to a landing.
Preparations for the next flight also included loading payload belonging to NASA.
While the flight window for the test opens Saturday, Virgin Galactic has said there will be opportunities to fly throughout February pending technical readiness and weather conditions. A storm system is expected to move across New Mexico this weekend, bringing with it frigid temperatures and snow in many locations.
Virgin Galactic has reached space twice before — the first time from California in December 2018. In June, Virgin Galactic marked its second successful glide flight of the spaceship over Spaceport America.
The company has yet to announce a firm date for its first commercial flight. More than 600 customers from around the world have purchased tickets to be launched into the lower fringes of space where they can experience weightlessness and get a view of the Earth below.