Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Virgin Galactic
  • US regulator the FAA has grounded a Virgin Galactic rocket plane as it investigates a mishap during a July 11 flight.
  • Billionaire and company co-founder Richard Branson was taken to the edge of space in the vehicle.
  • The FAA said the space plane went outside its clearance zone while returning.
  • See more stories on Business Insider SA's home page.

America's Federal Aviation Administration has grounded a Virgin Galactic rocket plane as it investigates a mishap aboard the flight that brought Richard Branson to the edge of space.

"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 FAA told Insider in a statement Thursday.

The New Yorker's Nicholas Schmidle initially reported Wednesday that Branson's spaceflight on July 11 aboard VSS Unity didn't go as smoothly as it appeared.

The plane didn't climb to the boundary of space quickly enough, ultimately causing it to deviate from its approved flight path on its way back to Earth.

According to the New Yorker, the space plane's pilots flew outside their airspace clearance zone for a total of one minute and 41 seconds.

"The FAA is overseeing the Virgin Galactic investigation of its July 11 SpaceShipTwo mishap that occurred over Spaceport America, New Mexico," the agency said in its statement. "SpaceShipTwo deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America."

Virgin Galactic told Insider that the New Yorker report was "misleading" and denied that any passengers or crew were in danger.

The company said that its spaceship did not fly outside "the lateral confines of the protected airspace," but instead dropped "below the altitude of the airspace that is protected for Virgin Galactic missions."

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