Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Accident Investigation Explained (Infographic)
An NTSB investigation revealed that the SpaceShipTwo crash in 2014 was due to pilot error..
Credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

Virgin Galactic's experimental VSS Enterprise SpaceShipTwo prototype broke apart in a test flight on Oct. 31, 2014. Early interest is focused on the ship's twin tail booms, which were deployed into their braking position too early.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Crash: Full Coverage and Investigation

Here's what investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board have announced as of Nov. 3, 2014:

Sequence of Events on Oct. 31, 2014

Takeoff: SpaceShipTwo is carried to 50,000 feet altitude (15.5 kilometers) by its White Knight Two carrier aircraft. The two vehicles took off from the Mojave Air and Spaceport at 9:20 a.m. PDT (12:20 p.m. EDT).

Separation: The craft separates normally from its carrier airplane and the hybrid rocket motor is fired as planned. SpaceShipTwo separates from WhiteKnightTwo at 10:10 a.m. PDT (1:10 p.m. EDT) to officially begin its fourth rocket-powered test flight. It is the 55th test flight of SpaceShipTwo. [Related: Virgin Galactic's Test Flight Milestones]

Anomaly: Nine seconds into the 70-second rocket burn, SpaceShipTwo's "feathering" system unexpectedly deployed, raising its twin tail booms up into a feathered position earlier than planned as the rocket continues to accelerate. The feathering system is designed to serve as a braking system during SpaceShipTwo's descent.

Breakup: Two seconds later, the SpaceShipTwo breaks apart, with debris crashing down to the Mojave Desert floor. According to the NTSB, the debris field covers an area 5 miles long.

SpaceShipTwo pilot Peter Siebold, director of flight operations for the spacecraft's builder Scaled Composites, managed to descend on his parachute and survived with minor injuries.

Co-pilot Michael Alsbury, a veteran Scaled test pilot, died in the accident.

Investigation: On Nov. 1, the NTSB begins its investigation in earnest, as a Go-Team arrives on site at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The investigation could last up to a year to pin down the cause of the accident.

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