The pilot of the Virgin Galactic rocket plane that suffered a fatal test-flight breakup said he was not aware that the co-pilot had unlocked a key braking system prematurely, investigators said Wednesday. The early deployment of SpaceShipTwo's wing-feathering system is thought to have been a key factor in the disaster. The system, which is supposed to fold the wings into a V shape as the plane descends, attracted the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board soon after the Oct. 31 crash.
In an update on the investigation, the NTSB said that its team interviewed injured pilot Pete Siebold last Friday, and that his "description of the vehicle motion was consistent" with other evidence. "He stated that he was extracted from the vehicle as a result of the break-up sequence and unbuckled from his seat at some point before the parachute deployed automatically." The NTSB says its investigation will take months. The crash killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and scattered debris over a 35-mile area in California’s Mojave Desert.
- SpaceShipTwo Rocket Plane Debris Spread Over 35 Miles, NTSB Says
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- SpaceShipTwo 'Feather' Tail System Deployed Prematurely
— Alan Boyle and Matthew DeLuca
NBCUniversal established a multi-platform partnership with Virgin Galactic to track the development of SpaceShipTwo.