Virgin Galactic Crash will examine FAA’s Space Investigation Role

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spaceshipHowever tragic, it was inevitable that an accident might occur in the testing for commercial space flight. It will also be a first test for an office within the FAA, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (CST). That office is investigating the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crash.

Virgin Galactic was founded by its charismatic leader, Sir Richard Branson and its technical genius is Scaled Composite, the Mohave Desert, CA aerospace design organization. The team entered into a test program, the parameters of which were set by the FAA’s CST office. The program started in 2011 with the transporter, White Knight Two, which would launch the SpaceShipTwo into orbit and there have been a number of technical delays with that vehicle. The SpaceShipTwo passed from its maiden flight on April 29, 2013, into a series of proving flights. Expectations were that the first flight, which would include Sir Richard as a passenger, would be scheduled for March, 2015.

Virgin Galactic issued the following statement on October 31, 2014:

“Space is hard and today was tough day. We are going to be supporting the investigation and we are going to get through it. The future rests in many ways on hard days like this but we owe it to the folks who were flying the vehicles and working so hard to understand this and to move forward.”

The investigation will ascertain what went wrong. Most importantly, the goal is to learn how to correct whatever all of the factors which contributed to the crash. As many NTSB proceedings have shown, it will take time to analyze all of the data and to examine the crash site.
Here is an early statement from the FAA:

“Just after 10 a.m. PDT today, ground controllers at the Mojave Spaceport lost contact with SpaceShipTwo, an experimental space flight vehicle. The incident occurred over the Mojave Desert shortly after the space flight vehicle separated from WhiteKnightTwo, the vehicle that carried it aloft. Two crew members were on board SpaceShipTwo at the time of the incident. WhiteKnightTwo remained airborne after the incident. The FAA is investigating.”

The ability of CST, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites to determine, with some level of certainty, all of the antecedents to the accident will impact the trajectory of the future commercial space business.
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