Just as Richard Branson had vowed to reporters, the management of Virgin Galactic has noted that a flawed operation caused the fatal crash of the SpaceShipTwo that killed a flight pilot and wounded another in the Majave Desert of California.
According to investigators from the National Transport Safety Board, the co-pilot unlocked a lever that caused the tail to lift up a little too early, causing the crash. Instead of being unlocked at Mach 1.4 to allow for a tail lifting that produces slow descent and create drag – called feathering, the lever had been unlocked at Mach 1.0; and a second lever that could have triggered the feathering process was never pulled, hence the crash, according to preliminary reports.
The body of the test pilot, Michael Alsbury, 39, was discovered close to the fuselage at the wreck, and Peter Siebold, the 43-year old surviving pilot that sustained shoulder injuries is responding to treatment. The fuel tanks, oxidizer tanks, and main engine were found intact at the scene of the crash, and the condition of the parts indicated that they were not breached and still good for use.
Although the company had spent $500 million in its plans to transport tourists to space for leisure, the Virgin Galactic management maintained its resolve to continue with building its second rocket for the mission. According to the CEO of Virgin Galactic, George Whitesides, “the second spaceship is very advanced in its construction. We need to work closely with the NTSB to work out as rapidly as we can what happened (to cause Friday’s crash) and then to move forward. We’re hopeful we can make rapid progress.” The company actually hopes to complete its second rocket plane by the end of this year.
To further assure the public on its dedication to quality with its second rocket plane, Whitesides says “we have qualified the engine that we were putting into flight tests. I’m sure we will continue that work. As we’ve always said, we expect to continue to improve all our systems as times goes on just like any manufacturer would. We are dedicated to opening the space frontier, while keeping safety as our ‘North Star’. This has guided every decision we have made over the past decade, and any suggestion to the contrary is categorically untrue…everything we do is to pursue the vision of accessible and democratized space – and to do it safely.”