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Dead pilot named in tragic Virgin Galactic spaceship crash

Conspiracy?

I expect that the theorists are champing at the bit with this one!

What will any self respecting theory include?

NASAs lack of credible power units for ISS support and maintenance

USs lack of power to deliver warfare ordinance

Virgins use of Russian power units that it may be able to "give"to the US and NASA.

Prospect of the US relying on Russian technology to fight its war against, er, Russia

Too much money and too big outcomes to allow anything normal to happen without someone lining their trousers.

Cynical? Moi?

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Nitrous oxide

I thought N2O had always been the oxidant - it's the propellant that has changed.

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FAIL

Vultures circling

..and not the El Reg sort.

I see Tom Bower has suddenly become an expert on rocket propulsion.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11203634/Branson-spaceship-explosion-The-missed-warnings.html

The fact is testing aircraft is dangerous, and this especially applies with respect to space going craft.

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Re: Vultures circling

Tom Bower has a track record as an investigative journalist and has spent years exposing the more 'interesting' aspects of Branson's enterprises. I'm sure he doesn't have or claim any special expertise in the area of rocketry, but he can certainly get access to people who have.

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Headmaster

Re: Vultures circling

Branson is a long way from perfect and has a wheeler-dealer past, but Bower is a miserable curmudgeon who tries to write the most critical biographies possible.

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Seems like using a untested engine and fuel with live people seems reckless. :(

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Not untested

AFAIK its been ground tested and this was apparently its first air test.

At some point you have to make a transition from earth to flight and this was it.

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Re: Not untested

"this was apparently its first air test."

As such I'm surprised there weren't a bunch of telescopic lenses trained on it for analysis purposes.

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Anonymous Coward

I have every sympathy for all concerned but fatalities during the flight testing of experimental.aircraft used to be almost routine in the first few decades of powered flight. If 4 people died in a car crash because a tyre blew then it might make the local news. The glamorous nature of the vehicle is what makes this incident so prominent not the single, highly unfortunate, death.

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I was watching the documentary "When Britain Ruled the Skies" the other night, about the giant post-WW 2 push by Britain into jet aircraft, both military and civilian. When Bristol, AVRO, De Havilland, and all the others were literally lighting the skies ablaze with new, ever faster designs. Farnborough airshow became THE huge flying show due to all the new British designs that were being rolled out every year. It was amazing...and for a brief period of about a decade, the small isle of Britain was the leading light in jet design.

But this came at a cost. The test pilots that flew for the companies became household names, adored by adults and children alike. Comic books were written for children about them, men wanted to be them, women wanted to date them. But the truth was, that at the peak of development, about 1 British jet test pilot was killed every month. Some were very famous men, such as the son of De Havilland himself. The toll was, in retrospect, staggering.

And yet nothing deterred their dreams, or the companies that pushed ever higher, ever faster designs.

What will happen here? Unfortunately, I think I know the answer even before I wrote this...

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"And yet nothing deterred their dreams, or the companies that pushed ever higher, ever faster designs.

What will happen here?"

Yes, to put things in perspective - one person died and one has been seriously injured in this accident.

Not a second later there was a media storm with "experts" and commentators crawling out of all corners shouting that they always knew spaceflight was unacceptably dangerous, that it can never be safe and that this is the end of commercial spaceflight.

At the same time "A search for two missing fishermen whose trawler sank in the North Sea has been called off, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said". Few days ago there was a fire at a fireworks warehouse leaving 2 people dead. There has been many road accidents around the world, no doubt killing lot more people - just in the day or so since the SS2 crashed. I still don't hear any impassioned calls for abandoning commercial fishing as unacceptably dangerous or banning all motor transport on safety grounds.

When Columbia broke up on reentry - 7 people died and it was the cause of a great political bruhaha, STS flights suspended for years due to "unacceptable safety risks", yet at the same time over 100 people died in a night club fire somewhere in Long Island and no one called for immediate closing down of all night clubs for fire risk evaluation and implementation of "return to dance" program.

The bottom line is - politicians and pundits couldn't care less about the loss of human life. They only put a mournful look on their faces when a particularly "sexy" death gives them a nice PR opportunity.

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Joke

>When Bristol, AVRO, De Havilland, and all the others were literally lighting the skies ablaze with new, ever faster designs.

Until the square windows caused cracks ...

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It could have been RB (and his staff (and maiden voyage crew))

... when they took off in their first 747 all those years ago. Instead they succeeded and made it way beyond what anyone else could imagine. At the time they lost numerous engines flying into a flock of birds just after take off- something uncommon but not always a risk. You seldom lose more than one engine but it happens. Its a good thing the 747 can land on one engine. No such luxury here.

Maybe if RB was on-board they might both have made it back. Such is luck- or our lack of it.

Very sad, but honestly, why all this hoo-ha when the boundaries of science are not being extended any further than is necessary to prove we can burn fuel flying for purely commercial purposes? RB is still capable of leaving more than the mark he has this far. Balloon flights and orbital flight may be great PR, but the effort and focus he can direct is a force that can change communities across continents. Burning more CO2 for any purpose, let alone using rockets, blackens brand image young and old these days. Maybe it is time for a sea-change at the helm of the Virgin supertanker- time for low energy flight, sustainable energy investments and by leading the way in business to help everyone work towards a better future. RB knows that its not good enough. RB probably knows a big decision needs to be made. Now is the time to announce the end to this carbon intensive fancy, and the adoption of progressive approaches to extending technical boundaries- whether they bring joy through fun, wonder, science, or simply improving our planet's darkening future.

If Virgin brands don't lead the effort (or others) properly in this space, who will? BP? Shell, Exxon? BA?... Can RB deliver on something more before he walks off the end of his jetty?

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Re: It could have been RB (and his staff (and maiden voyage crew))

Drivel

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Re: It could have been RB (and his staff (and maiden voyage crew))

<<why all this hoo-ha when the boundaries of science are not being extended any further than is necessary to prove we can burn fuel flying for purely commercial purposes?>>

Because some people would like the experience and are willing to spend their wealth to attain that experience. It isn't safe and that is part of the thrill for some people. Are you saying that no one should do anything risky? Bungee jumping, parachuting, driving, bonfires, fireworks, own guns? Or maybe only if they have your say-so?

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Re: It could have been RB (and his staff (and maiden voyage crew))

"Maybe it is time for a sea-change at the helm of the Virgin supertanker"

Then again, maybe it isn't.

"time for low energy flight"

Which is what - being carried on fairy's wings?

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Not Necessarily the Engine

Everyone online seems to be saying engine at this point, but so far as I can tell from 3rd party photos it could have been airframe failure, or any of a number of things. I don't see evidence of an explosion (frequently cited), just escaping nitrous oxide. Just because it was a rocket test doesn't make it a rocket failure.

(And yes, I have professional experience in precisely this area, though no specific knowledge of this vehicle.)

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Re: Not Necessarily the Engine

Don't you be coming around here with your knowledge and expertise... what we need is snap judgements and baseless hyperbole.

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Re: Not Necessarily the Engine

The Chief Investigator is now saying that there has been an uncommanded feathering (although without saying that it was the cause of the accident at this stage).

Slowing device 'deployed early'

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Re: Not Necessarily the Engine

If you look at the photos just after the malfunction the aircraft is clearly facing backwards. My guess is an airframe or control issue - nothing to do with the rocket. Though of course that won't stop all the I-told-you-so types making hay.

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Re: Not Necessarily the Engine

" don't see evidence of an explosion (frequently cited), just escaping nitrous oxide. "

Ditto. Whilst the airframe was scattered widely there wasn't much evidence of anything catastrophic around the rocket part of the airframe.

The question becomes "why engage feather mode?".

Both pilots were highly experienced. There must have been a good reason.

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RB's real interest isn't space, that's just a bonus.

His machine will enable you to fly from London to Melbourne in 3 hours, there's a lot of potential there.

It's rubbish that this happened but given it's all new it's unrealistic to have expected there wouldn't be setbacks, however they'll get it right (they're not far off), it'll be certified as flight ready and will change the world.

As soon as my numbers come up I'm buying a ticket.

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Re: RB's real interest isn't space, that's just a bonus.

It all really depends on how tight his budget is for this project.

This will push back any prospect of commercial operations by 2 years at least - does he have cash to fund it through? What will the delay do to the NPV of the project and will it be able to recover? Is he prepared to take the risk while sinking more capital into it or is he going to cut the losses and stop?

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Re: RB's real interest isn't space, that's just a bonus.

One news article said they'd burned (no pun intended) through most of their $400m from Aabar Investments and Virgin Group are now funding day-to-day operations. I imagine Aabar are hoping Branson will carry on piling Virgin's money into it so that they eventually see a return on their investment rather than just pulling the plug and calling it a bad job, as will the New Mexico State government who have poured $200m into Spaceport America specifically to attract the likes of Virgin Galactic, and who will not want one of their highest profile tenants to be packing up and calling it a day.

On the plus side, latest news reports are suggesting it was an errant feathering of flight controls rather than the rocket motor going boom, which suggests that it's an error in the flight software rather than a fundamental design or engineering problem which is going to send them back to the drawing board.

It's worrying that there's an error in there at all given the strict standards that such software is supposed to be written to, but initial reports would suggest there isn't fundamental flaw in the airframe or motor design that would require a total redesign of the package (and render the partially-complete VSS Voyager vehicle obsolete).

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Re: RB's real interest isn't space, that's just a bonus.

"It's worrying that there's an error in there at all given the strict standards that such software is supposed to be written to"

Don't automatically assume its a software failure. Hardware failures or errors can cause similar problems.

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Pint

Of course it's a tragedy, no getting away with it but he was a test pilot and the prospect of death is something they're all too aware of. Pushing the bleeding edge of technology is not always a pleasant job. I just hope that something truly wonderful will come from this and that guy's life was not lost in vain.

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Anonymous Coward

Lessons to be learned:

1) Add multiple failsafes to prevent deployment of booms unless altitude and speed within specified limits

2) Improved ejection system

3) Black box(es)

4) Improvements to the fuel system, as this was IIRC grounds for changing the engine design in the first place

5) Backup control surfaces

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Re: Lessons to be learned:

And if, in the end, nothing is left that can can go wrong it bloody well will anyway!

Also imho Murphy was an optimist

Getting my Coat

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Latest news is the wing feathering system deployed prematurely. Normally this is only used for re-entry.

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