Virgin Galactic Girds Customers for NTSB Findings

Part of SpaceShipTwo's fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Part of SpaceShipTwo’s fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The following communication was sent from Virgin Galactic to its ticket holders today. Nothing really earth shattering here; a basic heads up to the customers and some instruction about how to deal with press inquiries.

In the first paragaph, they put the responsibility for the fatal flight on Scaled Composites. That might be legally true since the spaceship was still in Scaled’s possession. By contrast, Scaled had turned over WhiteKnightTwo to Virgin Galactic by that time.

But, I can’t imagine that’s going to go over real well here in Mojave. Previous flights that didn’t crash and kill the co-pilot were always promoted as joint Virgin/Scaled achievements in Virgin’s press releases. Virgin started calling it Scaled’s test flight immediately after the ship broke up.

Dear all,

As you’ll recall, over the past nine months the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been conducting a thorough investigation into last October’s test flight accident, with the full and open support of our contractors at Scaled Composites who were responsible for the flight, as well as the team at Virgin Galactic. While that accident investigation (as well as our own internal and external reviews of the SpaceShipTwo design and operations) is on-going, we have not been permitted to comment publicly about the cause of the accident. However, the NTSB is announcing today that the investigation will effectively conclude at a public NTSB Board meeting to be held in Washington DC next Tuesday 28th July. We therefore thought it would be a good moment to clarify what you should expect from the NTSB, ourselves and the media as the investigation comes to an end.

During the public meeting on 28th July, the NTSB Board will review a number of detailed technical reports prepared by the NTSB’s impartial, expert staff, as well as third party submissions pertaining to the accident and issue any recommendations. This data, which includes submissions from both Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, will then be released by the NTSB into the public domain. These submissions will detail both companies’ operations leading up to the accident, a review of the technical data as well as any recommendations made and actions taken since the accident. The final findings and recommendations will be shared in a written report soon afterwards, at which point the accident investigation will be officially completed.

As always, we will aim to share as much information with you, as soon as we are permitted to do so. To that end, as soon as possible after the NTSB Board meeting concludes on 28th July, we will send you a summary of the key findings, along with the links to the relevant documents. We also plan to set up live customer forums (via teleconference or webinar) during the following week in line with different time zones, to give you an opportunity to fully understand the report’s findings and any impact they may have on Virgin Galactic and your spaceflight.

Given the global news coverage following the accident, we are expecting high levels of media coverage again around the final NTSB activities. We know many of you were approached by the media following the accident and it’s likely you may be approached again. It is of course always a personal decision as to whether you wish to engage, and while your public commitment to the project is always much appreciated, we ask that you help the media understand that you are speaking in your personal capacity as a Future Astronaut, rather than as an official representative of Virgin Galactic. This will help you avoid having to answer specific questions about the accident or investigation from Virgin Galactic’s perspective. That said, if you feel uncomfortable with speaking to media then of course you should feel free to decline altogether or simply direct queries to us here, and we can provide further guidance. Either way, we would appreciate you alerting us if you are approached by the media so that we can support both you and the reporter with information and content as appropriate.

We will be back in touch soon but if you have any further questions or comments in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Best wishes,

Clare, Gemma and Phoebe
Your Astronaut Relations Team.