“It’s a pretty nasty place to be,” says Stanley. The shockwave at the front disrupts the flow of the wing, and can lead to extreme instability that could cause structural problems.
Between Mach 0.9 and 1.2, “the force on the airplane just skyrockets up with even small changes in velocity,” says Mitchell Walker, an aerospace engineer at Georgia Tech. “It’s a very dynamic situation: the plane has to accelerate through this location, but at the same time the force is going up in a nonlinear fashion.”
Further investigation is still needed to determine the cause the SpaceShipTwo crash, but it is clear that March 1, or more generally, space exploration, is risky.