Report on Virgin Galactic Disaster Released
The final report on the Virgin Galactic tragedy last year has been released.
Image Credit: Virgin
On 31 October 2014, – Virgin Galactic suffered a major setback with the loss of SpaceShipTwo and the death of co-pilot Michael Alsbury. During the test of their SpaceShipTwo test flight the spacecraft suffered a malfunction that resulted in destruction of the vehicle.
These tragic events were devastating for all involved in the project and the space community as a whole. Events such as this serve to highlight just how difficult space flight can be. To understand these events and determine how to prevent them occurring again a nine month investigation was launched. Led by the National Transport Safety Board, the investigation looked thoroughly at the systems and procedures leading up to accident.
The report has concluded that the accident was caused by human error. It has been established that the lock on the feather system had been prematurely released. The feather, is a moving section of the space crafts wing that is deployed during re-entry to increase drag to ease landing of the space craft. Unfortunately the early unlocking of the system caused flight instabilities responsible for the disintegration of the space craft.
Pressure to perform complex tasks in short windows of time.
The report identifies that the pilots were under immense pressure to perform complex tasks in short windows of time. Compounded with this was the pressure that if the feather had been unlocked too late, the mission would have to be aborted. Since the incident and following the findings of this report several new safety features have been put into place. The spacecraft has been redesigned to prevent early unlocking of the feathering system. Reviews are being made of the pilot training and simulation settings to ensure they are accurate can ensure the pilots are subjected to accurate reproductions of the conditions experienced during the flight.
As we move closer to widespread space tourism the safety of space flight is increasingly scrutinised. Events such as this remind us that space travel is hard and we should treat it with the utmost respect. The National Space Centre extends its sympathies to the Michael Alsbury’s family. To prevent these sorts of accidents in the future Virgin Galactic and others will surely review this report and learn as much as they can. Only through this careful consideration can we learn from our mistakes and continue to move forward.