Space News has an editorial on the SpaceShipTwo accident that I think is spot on:
Clearly the AST needs to wait until the NTSB presents the results of its investigation before drafting any such safety rules.
In the same vein, it was surprising to hear that Virgin Galactic intends to continue with construction of a second SpaceShipTwo vehicle with an eye toward resuming test flights in six months. Although the NTSB has raised the possibility that human error played a role in the mishap, it has not ruled out a design or mechanical issue with SpaceShipTwo.
Virgin Galactic is understandably eager to minimize additional delays to the introduction of commercial service and to demonstrate its resolve, but pressing ahead with construction — and perhaps even flight tests — while the investigation is still underway could prove problematic. One could argue that if Virgin Galactic wants to bet on SpaceShipTwo’s exoneration that’s its own business. But in doing so the company risks fueling doubts about the commercial spaceflight industry’s commitment to safety, which could invite the types of regulations it has sought to avoid, or at least defer.
That said, the AST should tread lightly in recognition of the industry’s novelty and fragility. While it can never compromise when it comes to protecting uninvolved third parties, the office also must recognize that those who are willing to pay for the thrill of going to the edge of space are risk takers by both nature and choice — this is not commercial aviation.
It’s not clear to me that Virgin Galactic is in a financial position to slow down. They’re spending an enormous amount on this program, and they don’t really have any solid revenues yet.
Read the full editorial.