Last week, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo exploded during a test flight, killing one pilot and injuring the other. While the investigation continues, and is likely to go on for quite some time, we do know more about what happened to SpaceShipTwo—namely, that the explosion appears to have been caused by pilot error. But in the wake of that revelation, new questions arise—ones that may not be easy to answer.
Investigators know that the premature unlocking of SpaceShipTwo’s feathering system—a braking system used to help the plane decelerate and descend—caused the explosion that resulted in the death of pilot Michael Alsbury. The deployment of that system caused the craft’s tail booms to move upward and forward to increase drag. It was supposed to be deployed when the craft reached a speed of 1.4 Mach, but instead was deployed when the space plane hit 1 Mach and was still accelerating.