Virgin Galactic crash: Probe into test flight could 'take a year'

Virgin Galactic will be able to operate while investigation is underway

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Sunday 02 November 2014 11:53 GMT
The investigation into why Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo aircraft crashed on Friday is expected to take a year to complete
The investigation into why Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo aircraft crashed on Friday is expected to take a year to complete (Getty)

The investigation into the crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, which killed one pilot and left another seriously injured, could take a year.

Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB), said the total investigation time into the crash is expected to be “12 months or so”.

Officials have begun the initial probe into the crash and are expected to spend the next week at the crash site in California.

SpaceShipTwo broke up in mid-air on Friday during a test flight. “When wreckage is dispersed like that, it indicates the likelihood of inflight breakup,” Mr Hart said.

Learning where aircraft parts fell will help investigators to determine when and how the breakup occurred, he added.

The crash left a five-mile path of debris across the Mojave desert in California.

Once investigators have finished examining the crash area they will examine the extensive documentation on the test flight and sift through the data gathered to determine the cause of the crash, which could cause the full investigation to take a year, Hart said.

Mr Hart said evidence will be taken from several cameras located on SpaceShipTwo and its launcher WhiteNightTwo to help determine the cause of the crash.

He said the NSTB’s investigation “does not stop” Virgin Galactic from operating while the safety agency’s work is being carried out.

Richard Branson flew into Mojave late on Friday night to assess the wreckage of Virgin Galactic’s flagship spacecraft (AFP)

Sir Richard Branson said on Saturday that Virgin is “determined” to find out what went wrong with the test flight, claiming that safety had always been top priority of the program.

“Yesterday, we fell short,” he said. “We’ll now comprehensively assess the results of the crash and are determined to learn from this and move forward.”

Michael Alsbury, 39, was killed in Friday’s test flight, while his co-pilot Peter Siebold, 43, who parachuted to safety, is in hospital.

Mr Siebold is said to be “alert and talking with his family and doctors,” according to Scaled Composites, the company developing the spaceship for Virgin Galactic and which both pilots worked for.

Sir Richard criticised early speculation over possible causes of the crash, and said: “To be honest, I find it slightly irresponsible that people who know nothing about what they’re saying can be saying things before NTSB makes their comments.”

Additional reporting by PA

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