- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The breakup of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two over the Mojave Desert last year was caused by the co-pilot unlocking the feather locks — which brake the ship — 14 seconds before the flight manual minimum speed, according to reports released by the National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday.

The reports, confirming what was long expected as the cause of the Oct. 31 crash that killed a pilot and rocked the aviation industry, say a contributing cause was the lack of an automatic system to prevent the feather locks from being unlocked too early. Also, there was no protocol in place for the flight crew to be challenged before moving the feather lock handle.

The feathers, which are Spaceship Two’s twin fins, are normally rotated into a vertical position only after the craft reaches Mach 1.4 in order to increase drag as it descends from its apogee. The feathers were unlocked at 0.92 Mach two seconds before the ship’s “in-flight separation.”

“It is our hope that through this investigation we will find ways to prevent such an accident from happening again,” NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said during Tuesday’s press conference in Washington, D.C.

The pilot killed in the test flight of the rocket-powered space plane was 39-year-old Michael Tyner Alsbury. The ship’s other pilot, Peter Siebold, was ejected from the aircraft and parachuted to the ground, suffering major injuries.

The crash created several debris sites over a 2-mile area of the Mojave Desert.

Mojave-based Scaled Composites designed, built and operated the spaceship under contract to Virgin Galactic, which is currently building a second ship designed for commercial spaceflight.

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(c)2015 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)

Visit The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.) at www.bakersfield.com

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