During its test flight and only seconds after firing its rocket engines, SpaceShip Two, which is aimed at eventually giving tourists a ride to space, disintegrated while it was at above 10 miles high in the sky.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will announce Tuesday what exactly caused the Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two to crash.
The federal safety officials mentioned that a co-pilot's error potentially caused the spacecraft to break apart above the Mojave Desert on Oct. 31. They plan to shed some light on the circumstances behind the Virgin Galactic crash.
The agency's board will meet for the staff investigation report, 6:30 a.m. Pacific time. Internet users can watch and listen in on its live airing on NTSB's Live and Archive Webcasts, where final recommendations will be made.
A video of what happened inside the cockpit at the time revealed that 39-year-old Michael Alsbury, co-pilot of the spacecraft, prematurely unlocked SpaceShip Two's movable tail. The video shows that seconds later, the movable tail's premature unlocking led the spacecraft to break apart.
SpaceShip Two pilot and 43-year-old Peter Siebold was thrown off while still strapped to his seat. He made it in time to unbuckle his seatbelt and for his parachute to automatically deploy. Unfortunately, Alsbury died.
While the spacecraft goes up, structures called feathers appear to be long regular aircraft. The feathers turn into a V-like shape as the spacecraft would descent, helping SpaceShip Two slow down, with its aerodynamic drag.
Shown in the video from the cockpit, co-pilot Alsbury pulled a lever unlocking the lever too soon, while the rocket ship was still making its way up into the air.
The spacecraft was designed to soar 60 miles up into the edge of the atmosphere of the Earth. Up at 60 miles, SpaceShip Two's engine burned out and gradually descended back down.
Prior to the rocket ship's crash, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, the company that built and designed SpaceShipTwo have already been planning on transferring the full ownership and license of SpaceShip Two to British billionaire Richard Branson, under his company Virgin Galactic.
In 2007, three Scaled employees died after a tank of nitrous oxide blew up, also during a test of the aircraft's propellant system. Following this accident, the Oct. 31 crash makes it the second disaster at Scaled Composites while it was working the spacecraft for Virgin Galactic.
Photo: Steve Jurvetson | Flickr