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Virgin Galactic Crash: SpaceShipTwo Tragedy the Result of Human Error

Image: Virgin Galactic Crash: SpaceShipTwo Tragedy the Result of Human Error
Sheriff's deputies inspect the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

By    |   Tuesday, 28 Jul 2015 12:42 PM

Pilot error caused the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crash last year as it broke up 10 miles above the Mojave Desert, a nine-month investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board has concluded.

The incident last October, which led to the test space ship disintegrating shortly after it fired its rocket engines during a test flight, killed one of the two pilots, reported KTLA-TV.

NTSB determined that the space vehicle's tail wings were repositioned prematurely in the accident, reported The Verge.

According to the NTSB investigation, co-pilot Michael Alsbury unlocked the feathering system too early, triggering the feathering maneuver to occur prematurely, which ultimately caused the vehicle to fall apart, noted The Verge. Alsbury died in the crash.

"The reason Alsbury unlocked the feather early may be because he didn't want to run the risk of abort, suggests NTSB investigator Katherine Wilson," wrote The Verge's Loren Grush. "The system must be unlocked by Mach 1.8 at the latest or else the flight is aborted."

"Scaled Composites, the manufacturer of SpaceShipTwo, said that it did not consider the possibility that a pilot would unlock the feather prior to Mach 1.4 when building the vehicle," Grush continued.

Virgin Galactic officials told The Verge that an inhibitor added to a new space ship will prevent premature unlocking of the tail wing in future flights.

NTSB investigators suspected the pilot error in working with the vehicle's tail wing or feathering system back in November, which was not known to copilot Peter Siebold, who survived the crash, according to Space.com.

Space.com stated that the unlocking the system increased the stability and drag during re-entry.

The crash brought a temporary halt to Virgin Galactic's goal of taking wealthy tourists into space until it figured out what happened, noted KTLA-TV.

The SpaceShipTwo was the suborbital spaceship designed to take tourists to Earth's upper atmosphere, according to The Verge. Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two aircraft carries SpaceShipTwo an altitude of 50,000 feet, where the space ship separates and travels to 361,000 feet, allowing passengers to experience weightlessness that has been limited only to astronauts until now.

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Pilot error caused the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crash last year as it broke up 10 miles above the Mojave Desert, a nine-month investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board has concluded.
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Tuesday, 28 Jul 2015 12:42 PM
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