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NTSB: "Premature unlocking" of Virgin Galactic tail linked to crash

2:06pm EDT - 01:14

National Transportation Safety Board officials say the pilots at the helm of a Virgin Galactic spaceship that crashed last year lacked training. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

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ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) Test pilots at the helm of a Virgin Galactic passenger spaceship that crashed last year were unaware of the catastrophic consequences of unlocking the craft's moveable tail section too early because of poor training, investigators probing the fatal accident said on Tuesday. The premature unlocking of SpaceShipTwo's hinged tail triggered a midair breakup of the ship during its fourth powered test flight on Oct. 31 over California's Mojave Desert, the National Transportation Safety Board has determined. Scaled Composites, a company the developed the craft and employed its test crew, provided inadequate training to co-pilot Michael Alsbury, who unlocked the tail, and pilot Peter Siebold, the NTSB said during a hearing in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. The Spaceship Company, a Virgin-owned operation based in Mojave, has taken over construction of SpaceShipTwo vehicles from Scaled. Test flights of its new ship are scheduled to begin before the end of the year. Alsbury, 39, an experienced test pilot, died in the accident, while Siebold, 43, managed to parachute to safety. Both pilots worked for Scaled Composites. The tail section is designed to rotate to allow the vehicle to re-enter the atmosphere with its heat-shielded belly down no matter what its original orientation. It is designed to be unlocked by one of the pilots after the ship is supersonic, traveling at about Mach 1.4, or 1.4 times the speed of sound. Alsbury unlocked the tail section when the spaceship was traveling at less than Mach 1. Virgin's spaceships will now include a mechanism to prevent pilots from unlocking moveable tail sections too early, the company wrote in an report to the NTSB that was released on Tuesday.

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NTSB: "Premature unlocking" of Virgin Galactic tail linked to crash

2:06pm EDT - 01:14