Falling Short of the Stars: The crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

A sequence of photos captured SpaceShipTwo’s brief flight and breakup. (AP)
Richard Branson and SpaceShipTwo. (Jared Ortega)
WhiteKnightTwo carrying SpaceShipTwo. (Virgin Galactic)
This animation from Mayday season 18 episode 6 depicts the full sequence of a SpaceShipTwo test flight, including the re-entry configuration with the tail boom feathered.
The pilots of PF04. (Scaled Composites)
On the left, the unfeathered configuration; on the right, the feathered configuration. (NTSB and Scaled Composites)
A diagram of the tail boom with the tusks highlighted. (NTSB and Virgin Galactic)
This animation from Mayday season 18 episode 6 breaks down how aerodynamic forces on the tail change as SpaceShipTwo accelerates.
SpaceShipTwo as it appeared near the start of its rocket burn, around 10 seconds before the accident. (NTSB)
Still images taken from the chase plane show SpaceShipTwo’s brief flight and breakup. (AP)
Pete Siebold parachutes to safety over the Mojave. This photo appears to have been taken from aboard the chase plane. (NBC News)
A local TV channel breaks the news of the accident. (ABC 7 News)
NTSB investigators examine SpaceShipTwo’s aft section. (NTSB)
Debris litters a highway near where the cockpit came to rest. (Douglas Messier)
One of SpaceShipTwo’s tail booms, which separated early in the breakup sequence. (ABC News)
NTSB investigators examine the tail boom. (NTSB)
An aerial view of part of the tail section. (Reuters)
Another view of the aft section. (The Guardian)
NTSB investigators examine the spacecraft’s other detached tail boom. (AFP)
SpaceShipTwo came down in a truly desolate location. (Reuters)
Closeup of the aft section. (AP)
Pete Siebold’s parachute, where it fell after his long descent. (ABC News)
VSS Unity, the second SpaceShipTwo, built to replace the crashed VSS Enterprise. (Ron Rosano)
Richard Branson and other Virgin Galactic employees aboard the company’s sole passenger flight to date. (Virgin Galactic)
VSS Unity rockets toward space. (Virgin Galactic)



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Admiral Cloudberg

Admiral Cloudberg


Analyzer of plane crashes and author of upcoming book (eventually™). Contact me via @Admiral_Cloudberg on Reddit or by email at kylanddempsey@gmail.com.