Virgin Galactic officials will rolled out a new version of its ?SpaceShipTwo? space tourism rocket in Mojave Friday afternoon.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) February 18, 2016
This is the company's return to flight testing for the first time since a 2014 accident destroyed the original, killing one of the pilots and setting back the Nascent industry.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) February 19, 2016
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At an altitude above 62 miles, passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the Earth below.
After years of development, Virgin Galactic appeared to be nearing the goal of turning ordinary civilians into astronauts when the first SpaceShipTwo broke apart on Oct. 31, 2014, during its fourth rocket-powered flight. Wreckage fell to the Mojave Desert floor.
The investigation found that co-pilot Michael Alsbury prematurely unlocked the so-called feathering system that is intended to slow and stabilize the craft as it re-enters the atmosphere.
Alsbury was killed, but pilot Peter Siebold, although seriously injured, parachuted to safety.
The "feathers" — a term derived from the design of a badminton shuttlecock — are tail structures that extend rearward from each wingtip. They are designed to swivel upward at an angle to create drag, preventing a buildup of speed and heat, and then rotate back down to normal flying position as the craft descends into the thickening atmosphere.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that Scaled Composites, a company that was developing SpaceShipTwo with Virgin Galactic and was responsible for its test program, should have had systems to compensate for human error.
The NTSB chairman, Christopher Hart, said it wasn't a matter of shortcuts but of not considering a crew member would make the mistake that occurred. Virgin Galactic subsequently assumed full responsibility to complete the test program.
The company stressed in a statement Thursday its commitment to testing from the level of individual parts on up to the complete craft. "Our team's job is to plan out not just the obvious tests but also the strange and inventive ones, to conduct those tests, and to use the data from those tests to re-examine everything about our vehicle to ensure we can take the next step forward," it said.