SpaceShipTwo’s engine did not cause failure

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The investigation into the failure of SpaceShipTwo last week during a powered flight test has determined that the accident was not caused by the spaceship’s engine and that the spaceship’s feathering system for return to Earth began deploying early during powered flight.

The ship’s fuel tanks and its engine were recovered intact, indicating there was no explosion. “They showed no signs of burn-through, no signs of being breached,” Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation and Safety Board, told reporters at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif

Instead, data and video relayed from the ship show its hallmark safety feature — a foldable tail section designed for easy re-entry into the atmosphere from space — was deployed early.

More here. Deployment required two commands, activation and then deployment. Data shows that the co-pilot Michael Alsbury activated the system slightly early. The second command, however, was not given, but the feathering system began to deploy nonetheless, during powered flight when the ship was accelerating upward. That is when the ship broke up.


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