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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: DCA15MA019
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 437: Commercial Space Flight
Accident occurred Friday, October 31, 2014 in Koehn Dry Lake, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 08/05/2015
Aircraft: SCALED COMPOSITES 339, registration: N339SS
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious.

NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aerospace accident report.
The Safety Board's full report is available at http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Pages/AccidentReports.aspx. The Aerospace Accident Report number is NTSB/AAR-15/02.

On October 31, 2014, at 1007:32 Pacific daylight time, the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) reusable suborbital rocket, N339SS, operated by Scaled Composites LLC (Scaled), broke up into multiple pieces during a rocket-powered test flight and impacted terrain over a 5-mile area near Koehn Dry Lake, California. The pilot received serious injuries, and the copilot received fatal injuries. SS2 was destroyed, and no one on the ground was injured as a result of the falling debris. SS2 had been released from its launch vehicle, WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), N348MS, about 13 seconds before the structural breakup. Scaled was operating SS2 under an experimental permit issued by the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) according to the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 437.


The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • Scaled Composites' failure to consider and protect against the possibility that a single human error could result in a catastrophic hazard to the SpaceShipTwo vehicle. This failure set the stage for the copilot's premature unlocking of the feather system as a result of time pressure and vibration and loads that he had not recently experienced, which led to uncommanded feather extension and the subsequent aerodynamic overload and in-flight breakup of the vehicle.