Virgin Galactic’s Modifications to SpaceShipTwo

SpaceShipTwo fuselage. (Credit: NTSB)
SpaceShipTwo fuselage. (Credit: NTSB)

On July 11, Virgin Galactic submitted information to the National Transportation Safety Board about how it planned to address issues raised by the crash of SpaceShipTwo last October. The recommendations and their status are reproduced below.

VG’s Post-Accident Recommendations

1) Modify the SpaceShipTwo feather lock system with an automatic mechanical inhibit to prevent unlocking or locking the feather locks during safety-critical phases of flight.

Status: Completed by VG

2) Add to the SpaceShipTwo Normal Procedures checklist and Pilot’s Operating Handbook an explicit warning about the consequences of prematurely unlocking the feather lock.

Status: Completed by VG

3) Implement a comprehensive Crew Resource Management (CRM) approach to all future Virgin
Galactic SpaceShipTwo operations in a manner consistent with the pre-existing CRM program VG has employed for WK2 operations. This includes, as a minimum:

  • Standardized procedures and call outs
  • Challenge/response protocol for all safety-critical aircrew actions, to include feather lock handle movement
  • Formalized CRM training

Status: Completed by VG

4) Conduct a comprehensive internal safety review of all SpaceShipTwo systems to identify and eliminate any single-point human performance actions that could result in a catastrophic event.

Status: An initial assessment was completed and modifications to SS2-002 are in progress. Virgin Galactic will continually evaluate and improve System Safety throughout SpaceShipTwo’s lifecycle.

5) Conduct a comprehensive external safety review of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company’s engineering, flight test and operations as well as SpaceShipTwo itself.

Status: Initial Assessment Completed. The external review team will review the program both prior to commencement of flight test activities as well as prior to entering commercial service.

6) Ensure Virgin Galactic employs pilots who meet or exceed the highest standards and possess a depth and breadth of experience in high performance fighter-type aircraft and/or spacecraft. Minimum VG qualifications during the flight test program shall be:

  • A long course graduate of a recognized test pilot school with a minimum of 2.5 years post-graduation experience in the flight test of high performance, military turbojet aircraft and/or spacecraft.
  • A minimum of 1000 hours pilot in command of high performance, military turbojet aircraft.
  • Experience in multiengine non-centerline thrust aircraft
  • Experience in multi-place, crewed aircraft and/or spacecraft

These criteria are based on industry best practices for flight testing, using DCMA INST 8210.1C, paragraph 4.3 as guidance.

Status: Completed. All current Virgin Galactic pilots exceed the above minimum VG standards.