Pilots At The Center Of Virgin Galactic Investigation

continues coverage of Friday’s Virgin Galactic crash, focusing on how pilot Peter Siebold was able to survive. According to reporter Jacob Rascon, both pilots had parachutes, but according to “sources close to the investigation,” only Siebold was able to open his. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson said that the company will continue with its plans “deliberately and with determination.” Tariq Malik, SPACE.com managing editor, similarly said that the crash should not end the venture, but there likely will be more scrutiny “from an engineering standpoint and a regulation standpoint.”

Reuters (11/4, Klotz) reports that the main question thought to face NTSB investigators now is why pilot Mike Alsbury unlocked SpaceShipTwo’s tail section early, which may have led to the vehicle’s destruction.

NBC News (11/4, Boyle) reports that Robert Stengel of Princeton University said that had SpaceShipTwo’s wing-feathering mechanism deployed “10 or 20 seconds later,” the vehicle breakup could have been avoided because it took place “at the worst possible flight condition.” Had SpaceShipTwo been higher when the feathering system deployed, the atmosphere would have been thinner and there would have been “less aerodynamic stress.”

Meanwhile, according to Popular Science (11/4, Atherton), Virgin Galactic’s statements from Tuesday expressed “less doubt” about the future of the company than did previous statements even by Branson. Still, the “possibility remains” that Virgin Galactic may not succeed following this incident.

Nature (11/5) reports that analysts like Joan Johnson-Freese, a space-policy specialist at the US Naval War College, warn that the US cannot use last week’s failures by Virgin Galactic and Orbital Sciences as reasons to say that spaceflight is “just too hard.” The incidents show “the complexities of private spaceflight,” where new systems are developed and used while on public view. According to the article, while experts believe the industry can survive, they caution it can only do so “if the public is as willing to accept the risks.” The Verge (11/4, Dzieza) has a similar thrust to its coverage, highlighting the fact that Orbital can suffer more accidents than Virgin Galactic because it is only launching cargo and has a steady funding stream from the government.

The Everett (WA) Herald (11/4, Catchpole), in a profile piece about Siebold, notes that the accident shows how “being a test pilot is still a dangerous job.”

Orbital Names Members Of Antares Launch Accident Investigation Board. The Newport News (VA) Daily Press(11/5, Dietrich) reports that the Orbital Sciences named the members of its Accident Investigation Board (AIB) that will investigate why an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket launch failed last work. The board, which will be overseen by the FAA and chaired by Orbital’s David Steffy, includes “current and former NASA engineers Wayne Hale, Tom Costello and Matt Lacey.”

Planetary Resources Plans Next Launch For Asteroid Mining Project. Bloomberg News (11/4, Elmquist) reports that with its first satellite destroyed in the Antares rocket explosion, Planetary Resources, which aims to mine asteroids for resources, will launch a spacecraft again in August that will “replace and expand the functions of the equipment lost last week.” Co-Chairman Eric Anderson said that the launch failure did not adversely affect the company’s plans “in the overall scope of things.” Meanwhile, the article notes that David Gump, co-founder and vice chairman of Deep Space Industries, said that his company plans to announce the launch of its “first prospecting satellite” in December. Astronauts Memorial Foundation Asked To Add Alsbury’s Name To Space Mirror Memorial.Reuters (11/4, Klotz) reports that in another first, space program analyst Jim Oberg asked the Astronauts Memorial Foundation to add Mike Alsbury’s name to the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The foundation said that only astronauts can be added to the memorial. Oberg claimed that by adding Alsbury’s name, the foundation would help open up space.

James Oberg writes about the question of whether Alsbury is really an astronaut or not in a piece on the NBC News (11/4) website. Oberg notes that some on the memorial “died during ground training, or in aircraft accidents, or while they were carrying out other official duties.” Oberg notes that if Alsbury had worked for NASA, he would have “clearly met the existing standards” for inclusion. However, Thad Altman, director of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, said that while Alsbury does not meet those standards now, the group is prepared to re-examine them. Oberg claims that with more private vehicles coming online, the Astronauts Memorial Foundation should update its standards now “and provide for recognition of any additional future casualties.”

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