Tag: SpaceShipTwo

Rutan: Pilot Error Most Likely Cause of SpaceShipTwo Crash

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Sir Richard Branson hugs designer Burt Rutan as they are surrounded by employee's of Virgin Galactic, The SpaceShip Company and Scaled Composites watch as Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip2 streaks across the sky under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005. Burt's wife Tonya Rutan is at right taking their photo. The spacecraft was dropped from its "mothership", WhiteKnightTwo over the Mojave, CA area, April 29, 2013 at high altitude before firing its hybrid power motor. (Credit: Mark Greenberg)

Sir Richard Branson hugs designer Burt Rutan as they are surrounded by employee’s of Virgin Galactic, The SpaceShip Company and Scaled Composites watch as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip2 streaks across the sky under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005. Burt’s wife Tonya Rutan is at right taking their photo. The spacecraft was dropped from its “mothership”, WhiteKnightTwo over the Mojave, CA area, April 29, 2013 at high altitude before firing its hybrid power motor. (Credit: Mark Greenberg)

The Tribune talks to Burt Rutan about the fatal crash of SpaceShipTwo:

Investigators reportedly believe that the test pilot who died in the crash, 39-year-old Mike Alsbury, may have committed an error by unlocking a lever on the craft’s “feathering system” too early. The system is designed to create drag as the space ship descends. Pilot Peter Siebold, 43, parachuted down and suffered injuries.

“We had a fatal accident with a manned spaceship where there was nothing wrong with the spaceship,” Rutan said. “I hope it doesn’t put a damper on things. … This is a blossoming industry.”Rutan said the only thing that makes sense to him about the accident is that during an anxious period, Alsbury may have distractedly performed the task.

“During moments of stress combined with fear, pilots can have a kind of unconscious muscle memory,” Rutan said. “They can do tasks before they’re supposed to. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”

Read the full story.

NM Legislators Unimpressed With Anderson’s Presentation on Spaceport America

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WhiteKnightTwo visited Spaceport America for the first time in three years on Wednesday. Below, you can see a full-scale model of SpaceShipTwo on the ramp. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WhiteKnightTwo visited Spaceport America for the first time in three years on Wednesday. Below, you can see a full-scale model of SpaceShipTwo on the ramp. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

A legislative hearing on Spaceport America on Thursday apparently didn’t go very well:

Members of a legislative finance oversight committee grilled spaceport Executive Director Christine Anderson after she handed them a presentation filled mostly with photographs.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, of Gallup, the committee’s vice-chairwoman, questioned the business plan and said the point of the meeting was to go over hard numbers and cover how the state should move forward.

Continue reading ‘NM Legislators Unimpressed With Anderson’s Presentation on Spaceport America’

Go Slow Approach Urged in Wake of SpaceShipTwo Accident

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

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

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.

Mike Alsbury Hailed as Hero

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Mike Alsbury

Mike Alsbury

A Message from Scaled Composites

October 31st is now a day in history marked by tragedy

Mike’s life and his work were filled with purpose and achievement. His mission was important, and he approached it with discipline and bravery. Our loss is painful, almost unbearable, and his sacrifice unimaginable by so many. Mike pursued his passion and his curiosity of weightless flight by pioneering an industry that will surely one day allow us all to understand the allure of space.

A hero can be described as an ordinary human who chooses or is thrust into a journey that tests and teaches them; one who risks or sacrifices self for the sake of others or a greater good. Like X-15 pilot Mike Adams, the 7 Challenger and 7 Columbia astronauts, and many others, Michael Tyner Alsbury is an American HERO.

Mike Alsbury Memorial Fund

If you would like to support the Alsbury family, please follow the link below.
http://www.gofundme.com/MikeAlsbury

Whitesides Vows to Stay the Course, Defends Virgin Galactic’s Approach to Safety

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Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides speaks with current and prospective employees during Virgin Galactic’s recent career fair at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides speaks with current and prospective employees during Virgin Galactic’s recent career fair at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides was down in Los Angeles on Thursday evening participating in a panel about the future of space exploration. He reiterated the company’s pledge to move forward with complete construction of the second SpaceShipTwo and begin testing next year.

Continue reading ‘Whitesides Vows to Stay the Course, Defends Virgin Galactic’s Approach to Safety’

Wall Street Journal Story Adds Details to Virgin Galactic’s Troubles With SpaceShipTwo

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Richard Branson speaks to the press at the Mojave Air and Space Port about the crash off SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Richard Branson speaks to the press at the Mojave Air and Space Port about the crash off SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The Wall Street Journal has a good piece on all the problems Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic have had with SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo over the years. It pretty confirms everything I’ve been writing for the last few years, adding some interesting details but getting a few of them wrong.

There were a number of interesting elements here:

The article claims that Sierra Nevada Corporation was brought in by Scaled Composites to develop SpaceShipTwo’s engine  in 2009. That’s not accurate.

Continue reading ‘Wall Street Journal Story Adds Details to Virgin Galactic’s Troubles With SpaceShipTwo’

NTSB Completes On-Scene Portion of SpaceShipTwo Crash Investigation

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

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

The National Transportation Safety Board issued an investigative update today into the crash of SpaceShip Two on Oct. 31, 2014, in Mojave, Calif.

  • The on-scene portion of the investigation into the crash of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, a test flight conducted by Scaled Composites, has concluded and all NTSB investigators have returned to Washington, DC.
  • The SpaceShipTwo wreckage has been recovered and is being stored in a secure location for follow-on examination.
  • The NTSB operations and human performance investigators interviewed the surviving pilot on Friday. According to the pilot, he was unaware that the feather system had been unlocked early by the copilot. His description of the vehicle motion was consistent with other data sources in the investigation. He stated that he was extracted from the vehicle as a result of the break-up sequence and unbuckled from his seat at some point before the parachute deployed automatically.
  • Recorded information from telemetry, non-volatile memory, and videos are being processed and validated to assist the investigative groups.
  • An investigative group to further evaluate the vehicle and ground based videos will convene next week at the NTSB Recorders Laboratory in Washington, D.C.
  • The systems group continues to review available data for the vehicle’s systems (flight controls, displays, environmental control, etc.). The group is also reviewing design data for the feather system components and the systems safety documentation.
  • The vehicle performance group continues to examine the aerodynamic and inertial forces that acted on the vehicle during the launch.

The investigation is ongoing. Any future updates will be issued as events warrant. Follow the investigation on Twitter at @ntsb, on our website at ntsb.gov, or sign up to receive NTSB news releases.

CNN Video: Richard Branson Says Space Travel is Worth the Risk

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Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson speaks to CNN Money’s Poppy Harlow about SpaceShipTwo and risk.

CNN Video: Whitesides Speaks About SpaceShipTwo Accident

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Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides talks to CNN’s Rachel Crane at the FAITH hangar about the SpaceShipTwo accident and the future of his company.

Editor’s Note: Virgin has been talking about completing the second SpaceShipTwo and beginning flight tests in April. Multiple sources in Mojave report that is an unrealistic date.

The media need to be a lot more skeptical about the company’s pronouncements on these things given its long history of unrealistic projections and missed deadlines. They are certainly not alone in putting out optimistic schedules in this industry. But, they have made a lot of announcements that have been significantly at odds with realities on the ground.

Iven’s Family Calls for Richard Branson to Scrap SpaceShipTwo Before Anyone Else Dies

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Remains of Scaled Composites test stand after a nitrous oxide explosion in July 2007.

Remains of Scaled Composites test stand after a nitrous oxide explosion in July 2007.

The destruction of SpaceShipTwo brought back painful memories for the families, friends and colleagues of three Scaled Composites engineers killed in 2007 during a test of the vehicle’s propulsion system. The family of one of them, Todd Ivens, has called for Richard Branson to scrap the program before anyone else dies.

Mr Ivens’s sister Tara Ford, 41, said: “Yet another good man has lost his life to Branson’s plan. Personally, I would have scrapped it when the first three died, but then that’s just practical thinking.

“Seeing as it was figured out the boys were not properly trained for what they were doing back in 2007, it makes me wonder if things are going how they are supposed to.”

Mrs Ford said the news of the rocket ship crash had brought memories of the death of her brother flooding back to her. Mr Ivens, 33, and two colleagues Eric Blackwell, 38, and Charles ‘Glen’ May, 45, who were employed by Scaled Composites, died when a tank of nitrous oxide exploded on July 26 2007 at Mojave Air and Space Port.

They had been watching the test from behind a chain-link fence which offered them no protection from the shrapnel and other debris when the nitrous oxide tank blew up. Three other employees were injured in the blast and Scaled Composites was fined a little over $25,00 for five breaches of health and safety rules.

It is understood that Scaled Composites conducted its own an internal review of what went wrong although those findings have never been made public. The cause of the accident was also never made public.

Mrs Ford, who lives in Portland, Oregon, where Mr Ivens grew up, said: “I got that ‘not again’ feeling when I saw the news last week.

“They never really got to the bottom of why it happened, I still don’t know. We were just told it was a one-in-500,000 accident. But here we are again.”

Read the full story.