posted at 23:50
Author: The Associated Press
Virgin Galactics descent device deployed prematurely
Virgin Galactic's experimental spaceship broke apart in flight over California's Mojave Desert after a device to slow the craft's descent prematurely deployed, federal investigators said Sunday. National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher Hart said that while no cause for Friday's crash of SpaceShipTwo has been determined, investigators found the "Feathering" system - which lifts and rotates the tail to create drag - was activated before the craft reached the appropriate speed. The co-pilot unlocked the system but Hart said the second step occurred "Without being commanded." Hart said the investigation is months from being completed and pilot error and mechanical failure are among many things being looked at. Hart said the feathers activated at Mach 1.0, the speed of sound, but shouldn't have deployed until it had at least reached a speed of Mach 1.4, or more than 1,000 mph. SpaceShipTwo tore apart Friday after the craft detached from the underside of its jet-powered mother ship and fired its rocket engine for a test flight. SpaceShipTwo has been under development for years and, like all space projects, has suffered setbacks. The loss of SpaceShipTwo was the second fiery setback for commercial space travel in less than a week.

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