Virgin Galactic crash blamed on “single human error”

The National Transportation Safety Board's acting chairman, Christopher Hart, second from left, visits the scene of the SpaceShipTwo crash with pilot Todd Ericson, second from right, and NTSB investigators near Cantil, Calif., on Nov. 1, 2014. (NTSB)


The National Transportation Safety Board's acting chairman, Christopher Hart, second from left, visits the scene of the SpaceShipTwo crash with pilot Todd Ericson, second from right, and NTSB investigators near Cantil, Calif., on Nov. 1, 2014. (NTSB)

Federal safety officials say the maker of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, Scaled Composites, is at fault for not anticipating the copilot error that caused the spaceship's disintegration during a test flight nine months ago.

Earlier, The National Transportation Safety Board pursued copilot Michael Alsbury's premature unlocking of the space plane's "feather system," or movable tail, as the cause of the Mojave desert crash. Alsbury died. Pilot Peter Siebold survived.

SpaceShipTwo was more than 10 miles high during that Oct. 31 test flight when it broke apart seconds after firing its rocket engines.

The deadly accident was a major blow to billionaire Richard Branson's ongoing quest to bring space tourists to the edge of Earth's atmosphere.

"Scaled did not consider that a pilot would induce that kind of failure," said lead NTSB investigator Lorenda Ward.

From the Los Angeles Times:

But after a discussion, the NTSB staff revised the probable cause, placing most of the blame on Scaled Composites, which had designed and built SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic.

The NTSB blamed Scaled for failing to consider "that a single human error could result in a catastrophic hazard."

Both pilots worked for Mojave-based Scaled, which is owned by defense giant Northrop Grumman.

In the report released today, NTSB also found fault with the Federal Aviation Administration for not recognizing that Scaled's hazard analysis hadn't fully accounted for the likelihood of human error. FAA had been under pressure to approve the SpaceShipTwo application within 120 days, and communication with Scaled's staff was lacking.

How the pilot survived the deadly crash is another mystery the LA Times dug into here.

SpaceShipTwo's wreckage in the Mojave desert, shortly after the 2014 crash. [Reuters]


SpaceShipTwo's wreckage in the Mojave desert, shortly after the 2014 crash. [Reuters]

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