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Scaled Composites Statement on NTSB Findings

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scaled_logoMOJAVE, Calif. (Scaled Composites PR) — Our business is to design prototype, cutting-edge aircraft.  Safety has always been a critical component of Scaled’s culture and, as the NTSB noted today, our pilots were experienced and well-trained.  As part of our constant and continuing efforts to enhance our processes, we have already made changes in the wake of the accident to further enhance safety.  We will continue to look for additional ways to do so. We extensively supported the NTSB’s investigation and appreciate all of its work to make the industry safer. Mike Alsbury exemplified the passion that all our employees share. He and his family are always in our thoughts, and they are especially so today.

Dramatic Photos of Siebold’s Parachute Descent After SpaceShipTwo Broke Up

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Pete Siebold under canopy approaches the desert floor. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

Pete Siebold under canopy approaches the desert floor. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

Mr. Greenberg is a professional photographer who was hired by Virgin Galactic to photograph the flight test of SpaceShipTwo last October while airborne from an Extra 300 chase aircraft. Greenberg’s photos captured pilot Pete Siebold’s descent to the desert floor after he was thrown free after the spaceship broke up. He was using two still cameras and operating a GoPro Hero in video mode during the accident event.

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The Breakup of SpaceShipTwo Frame by Frame From the Tail Boom

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Engine start on SpaceShipTwo.(Credit: Scaled Composites/NTSB)

Engine start on SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Scaled Composites/NTSB)

The following sequence is extracted from a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) document about the loss of SpaceShipTwo last October. The images show the breakup of the vehicle from a camera on one of the tail booms. The premature unlocking of the feather mechanism resulted in aerodynamic pressures deploying the movable tail booms during powered ascent.

NTSB experts did the annotation on the photos and the narrative that accompanies the images. The sequence spans 3 seconds.

Figure 62 (Credit: Scaled Composites/NTSB)

Figure 62 (Credit: Scaled Composites/NTSB)

Figure 62 is the last frame exported from the recording that shows the feather in a undeployed and nominal position. A vertical line was drawn at the intersection of the right boom’s leading edge and the contour of the upper fuselage structure to illustrate the feather’s relative position. In every frame prior to this, the feather position is nominal. By figure 62 and forward, the exported images show positive feather movement indicated by the incongruity between the vertical line and the relative position of the right boom’s leading edge and the contour of the fuselage.

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A Detailed Account of Pete Siebold’s Survival in the SpaceShipTwo Crash

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Pete Siebold descending under parachute after the breakup of SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic)

Pete Siebold descending under parachute after the breakup of SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic)

The National Transportation Safety Board has released a summary of an interview it conducted with Scaled Composites pilot Pete Siebold, who was in command of SpaceShipTwo when it broke up over the Mojave Desert last Oct. 31 during a flight test. Siebold was thrown clear of the ship and managed to parachute to safety, but not before passing out and struggling to activate his oxygen system. Co-pilot Mike Alsbury was not as lucky; he died in the crash.

The following excerpt describes Siebold’s descent and landing from about 10 miles up, the extent of his injuries, and his treatment by medical personnel in the desert and at Antelope Valley Hospital.

Because he considered this a “high-risk” flight he stated that he took extra precautions and took time to think through scenarios that might happen and how he would rapidly respond in an emergency and activate his parachute and oxygen cylinder. About 10-15 minutes prior to release there was a period of low workload when he was able to physically feel for the parachute D-ring rip cord, oxygen activation pud, and the dual-lever seatbelts to improve his “muscle memory” in the event of an emergency. This was not a written procedure, but something he personally did on some flights.

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Siebold Shouted Yeehaw! Seconds Before Disaster Struck

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Peter Siebold (Photo: Scaled Composites)

Peter Siebold (Photo: Scaled Composites)

Below is an excerpt from the cockpit recording of the SpaceShipTwo crash on Oct. 31, 2014. The transcript picks up as a controller gives the OK for the WhiteKnightTwo mother ship to release SpaceShipTwo. The spacecraft broke up 38 seconds later when its feather mechanism deployed prematurely during powered ascent. The powered portion of the flight lasted 11 seconds.

Descriptions of what is happening in the SpaceShipTwo cockpit and what pilot Pete Siebold and co-pilot Mike Alsbury are doing are in brackets [] and italics.

All times are given in UTC. The accident occurred at 10:07 a.m. PDT.

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Branson’s Video Statement on NTSB Findings

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NTSB Video Showing Premature Deployment of SpaceShipTwo Feather

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Scale Composites SpaceShipTwo Powered Flight #4

CSF: SpaceShipTwo Provides Valuable Lessons Learned

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The spot where SpaceShipTwo's cockpit crashed. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The spot where SpaceShipTwo’s cockpit crashed. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

WASHINGTON, DC (CSF PR) — Today the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a public hearing to adjudicate the probable cause of last year’s SpaceShipTwo test flight accident, which resulted in an in-flight breakup. NTSB’s investigators and analysts presented their findings, conclusions, and recommendations in a draft report to the NTSB Board members. Throughout the discussion, NTSB staff and Board members praised the industry’s strong commitment to transparency and cooperation during the investigation, which helped lead to a more timely and complete resolution of the accident investigation.

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Initial NTSB Synopsis on SpaceShipTwo Accident

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ntsb_logoNATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD
Public Meeting of July 28, 2015
(Information subject to editing)

In-Flight Breakup During Test Flight
Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo, N339SS
Near Koehn Dry Lake, California
October 31, 2014

This is a synopsis from the NTSB’s report and does not include the Board’s rationale for the conclusions, probable cause, and safety recommendations. NTSB staff is currently making final revisions to the report from which the attached conclusions and safety recommendations have been extracted. The final report and pertinent safety recommendation letters will be distributed to recommendation recipients as soon as possible. The attached information is subject to further review and editing.

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Virgin Galactic Claims NTSB Findings Vindicate SS2 Design

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I dunno about that. The NTSB was tasked with finding the probable cause of SpaceShipTwo’s destruction last October. I saw nothing in what’s been released indicating that NTSB evaluated the soundness of SpaceShipTwo’s design. Perhaps it will be in the final report that will be released in a few weeks.

I thought NTSB was tasked with discovering the cause of the crash and making safety recommendations based on what it found. I didn’t think it had authority to go into whether the overall design is sound.

The FAA AST, which oversees the industry (apparently poorly), doesn’t have that authority. Under law, its mandate is to protect the uninvolved public. Spacecraft are licensed, not certified. The whole point of the informed consent regime and the learning period is to allow companies to evaluate different designs, technologies and approaches. The FAA can’t come in and determine what’s sound and what isn’t unless and until there’s an accident.

I’ll wait for the final report to see if there’s any analysis of the overall ship design. But, I doubt that was on the NTSB’s agenda.