SpaceJibe

October 31, 2014

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashes, at least one pilot killed

Filed under: Gadgets, Government Policies — bferrari @ 5:01 pm

Space Ship 2

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket crashed during a test flight over the Mojave Desert Friday, killing at least one of the two pilots aboard and seriously injuring the other.

The company tweeted  that SpaceShipTwo was flying under rocket power and then tweeted that it had “experienced an in-flight anomaly.”

“During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo,” Virgin Galactic tweeted, adding the mothership landed safely.

The California Highway Patrol reported one fatality and one major injury.  SpaceShipTwo is typically flown by two pilots.

Authorities said that the aircraft’s co-pilot was killed in the crash, while the pilot, who ejected, was injured, according to Reuters. Citing Kern County Sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt, Reuters reported that the pilot was found at the scene and taken to a local hospital.

Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the crash, said the space tourism craft exploded after it was released from WhiteKnightTwo, the ‘mothership’ plane that carries it to a high altitude.

“I could see that it was tumbling, and it wasn’t one piece,” Brown told Fox News’s Shepard Smith.

Parachutes were reportedly seen in the air, according to SpaceFlightNow.com, which said that the “anomaly” apparently occurred after the plane fired its rocket motor following a high-altitude drop from WhiteKnightTwo.

Virgin Galactic tweeted that its partner Scaled Composites conducted the powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo.

“We will work closely with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of this accident and provide updates ASAP,” the company also tweeted. Virgin Galactic will hold a press conference at 5 p.m. ET.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson is on his way to the test site. “Thoughts with all @virgingalactic & Scaled, thanks for all your messages of support. I’m flying to Mojave immediately to be with the team,” he tweeted.

Friday’s flight marked the 55th for the spaceship, which was intended to be the first of a line of craft that would open space to paying civilians. At 60 feet long, SpaceShipTwo features two large windows for each of up to six passengers, one on the side and one overhead.

Virgin Galactic – owned by Branson’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS of Abu Dhabi – sells seats on each prospective journey for $250,000, with full payment due at the time of booking. The company says that “future astronauts,” as it calls customers, have visited Branson’s Caribbean home, Necker Island, and gone through G-force training.

Stephen Hawking, Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Russell Brand are among the celebrities to sign up for flights. Virgin Galactic reports taking deposits totaling more than $80 million from about 700 people.

A related venture, The Spaceship Co., is responsible for building Virgin Galactic’s space vehicles.

During testing for the development of a rocket motor for SpaceShipTwo in July 2007, an explosion at the Mojave spaceport killed three workers and critically injured three others. A California Division of Occupational Safety and Health report said the blast occurred three seconds after the start of a cold-flow test of nitrous oxide – commonly known as laughing gas – which is used in the propulsion system of SpaceShipTwo. The engine was not firing during that test.

Virgin Galactic did not immediately respond to a request for comment from FoxNews.com.

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