Rocket Scientists Say Virgin Galactic Put Safety In The Back Seat

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After Friday's tragic mid-air explosion and crash of Virgin Galactic's Space Ship Two, rocket industry experts have come forward, saying the company was warned of dangers in using nitrous oxide fuel in its rockets. One expert even said she was "shocked, but not surprised" that the crash occurred.

A lot of new information has come out of Mojave over the past couple of days, related to Virgin Galactic's overall struggle to get not just their spaceship, but their company off the ground. The company has reportedly lost three of its senior executives over the past year, including its VP of safety, VP of propulsion, as well as its chief aerodynamics engineer. In May, the company dropped its partnership with Sierra Nevada Corp (not the beer company) after electing to use internally developed technology for its rocket motor.


A rocket propulsion expert named Carolynne Campbell-Knight, from the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS) says she contacted Virgin Galactic four years ago, cautioning them against the use of nitrous oxide. She told The Independent: "My view is from my own engineering experience which I shared with them – they obviously took the position that they knew better." She also said she was shocked, but not surprised about the explosion, and said Virgin should get away from commercial space travel, and stick to something they might be good at, like selling mobile phones.


Another rocket scientist, Geoff Daly contacted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2013 to warn against the dangers of approving Virgin Galactic for test flights. In his email, he told the FAA:

"Remember three people have been killed and numerous persons injured by a prior explosion involving [nitrous oxide] N2O in this motor design [in 2007]. We do not need another incident on the ground/flight line or in the air."


The executive director of the IAASS, Tomasso Sgobba said the company has also been criticized for being secretive with its designs, and not seeking peer review. He said Virgin's design methods were "outdated" and did not consider modern safety techniques and guidelines.

Virgin's charismatic CEO, Sir Richard Branson flew out to California on Friday following the crash and told reporters the company is determined to find the cause of the crash, and is determined to move forward with the program.


Photos via Associated Press