The cause of Friday’s crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo has not been determined, but investigators found the “feathering” system – which rotates the tail to create drag – was activated before the craft reached the appropriate speed, National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher Hart said.
The system requires a two-step process to deploy. The co-pilot unlocked the system, but Hart said the second step occurred “without being commanded.”
“What we know is that after it was unlocked, the feathers moved into the deploy position, and two seconds later we saw disintegration,” Hart said.
The finding moves away from initial speculation that an explosion brought down the craft but still doesn’t fully explain why the disaster occurred.
Update: I hope the government can resist its Pavlovian desire to Do Something and write some laws or Make It Safe.
The rocket plane was using a new fuel formulation, said Kevin Mickey, CEO of Scaled Composites, which conducted Friday’s test flight.
The new fuel mixture had been “tested and proven on the ground many times,” he said.
Virgin Galactic has engaged in a nearly decade-long endeavor to produce the world’s first commercial space liner, which would make several trips a day carrying scores of paying customers into space for a brief journey.
One person died and another was seriously injured as a result of Friday’s incident involving Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, California Highway Patrol Officer Jesse Borne said.
A “serious anomaly” resulted in the “loss” of SpaceShipTwo during a test flight Friday, and the status of the pilots isn’t known, Virgin Galactic said on Twitter.
Sad. Peace and fair winds to the departed. A speedy recovery to the injured pilot.
These events will always happen when you are testing the bounds of new flight technology. There are no advances without risk.