Mechanisms are Critical to Space Vehicle Flight Success
by Launchspace Staff Writers
Bethesda MD (SPX) Sep 19, 2017
About two years ago the National Transportation Safety Board announced its finding regarding the Virgin Galactic crash that occurred on October 31, 2014. The simple explanation was that the co-pilot unlocked a critical vehicle mechanism too early. After a nine-month investigation the NTSB further concluded that human error and inadequate safety procedures caused the violent crash.
The vehicle was named the VSS Enterprise, or more precisely, Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites Model 339 SpaceShipTwo experimental test vehicle. This spacecraft suffered a catastrophic in-flight breakup, followed by a crash in California's Mojave Desert.
Fortunately, there were no passengers on board, because this was a test flight. However, the co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, was killed and the pilot, Peter Siebold, was seriously injured.
This was the fourth powered flight of a vehicle designed to complete suborbital flights by rocketing out of the atmosphere and coasting back to Earth after several minutes of weightlessness for commercial passengers. Today, Siebold is still involved in the development and testing of Virgin Galactic vehicles.
SpaceShipTwo was design to be released for a carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo. Seconds after release an internal rocket ignits on SpaceShipTwo, propelling it toward the edge of the atmosphere. On the 2014 fatal test flight a new and more powerful hybrid rocker motor was being flight tested for the first time.
According to a public NTSB briefing, SpaceShipTwo dropped from the carrier aircraft and fired its rocket motor engine normally. However, about 11 seconds later, SpaceShipTwo violently broke apart, subsequently creating a 35-mile long debris field. Witnesses saw a parachute deploy before the aircraft crashed.
Typical of such a catastrophic event early speculation as to the cause involved the theory that the new rocket motor was at fault. However, this was almost immediately discarded when the rocket and its propellant tanks were recovered intact. As it turned out, cockpit video subsequently indicated that the feathering system, which acts as an air-braking descent device, was deployed too early.
In fact, just two seconds after the copilot unlocked the feathering system, while still accelerating under rocket power, the craft disintegrated. This was the first loss of life on a spacecraft in flight since the Space Shuttle disaster in 2003.
This disaster further demonstrated the critical nature of many types of mechanisms used on space vehicles and the importance of establishing precise procedures for using such mechanisms.
Subsequent to the crash, FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation awarded Virgin Galactic an Operator License for SpaceShipTwo. This license will ultimately permit commercial operations.
In the meantime, the second SpaceShipTwo was successfully test flown on May 1, 2017. This vehicle has been modified to correct the deficiencies related to the 2014 crash. Once this vehicle becomes operational it will carry up to six paying passengers and two pilots on short, suborbital flights. The seat price is $250,000 each.
Huntsville AL (SPX) Sep 13, 2017
To reduce the risk of first-time operations with one-of-a-kind spaceflight hardware for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), the agency built a core stage pathfinder similar in size, shape and weight to the 212-foot-tall core stage. Like SLS, the core stage pathfinder will be doing something that's never been done - testing new shipping and handling equipment and procedures from the manufactu ... read more
Rocket Science News at Space-Travel.Com
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