On the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, about 13 seconds after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) launch vehicle, the suborbital spaceplane SpaceShipTwo (SS2) broke up in flight and struck the desert near Koehn Dry Lake, California, U.S., after its reentry device was unlocked by the copilot, causing inadvertent deployment at transonic speed. The pilot was severely injured but was able to descend to the ground by parachute, and the copilot was fatally injured. There were no injuries on the ground. The experimental spaceplane was destroyed, and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted its first investigation of a commercial spacecraft accident.
Premature unlocking of SpaceShipTwo’s reentry system calls into question steps taken to mitigate human errors capable of causing in-flight breakup.