A VIRGIN GALACTIC spacecraft has crashed after an explosion during a test flight over the Mojave desert, killing one of the pilots, seriously injuring another and leaving debris scattered over a wide area.
The plane, SpaceShipTwo, was undertaking a test flight as part of Sir Richard Branson’s plans for commercial space travel when a “serious anomaly” occurred, the company said.
Witnesses reported the spacecraft broke apart soon after it was detached from the launch plane that carries it to 45,000ft. Rescuers found one of the pilots dead on the ground. The other, who appeared to have deployed an emergency parachute, was airlifted to a hospital with serious injuries.
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Virgin Galactic said that SpaceShipTwo was powered by a fuel mix that had not previously been used in flight, although it had been tested extensively on the ground. The company was unable to say whether the change to the fuel mix offered an explanation for the accident, which happened just before 11am local time.
The crash served as another stark reminder the dangers of space exploration, three days after an unmanned rocket on supply mission to the international space station exploded seconds after takeoff from a Nasa launch facility in Virginia.
“Space is hard, and today was a tough day,” said George Whitesides, CEO and president of Virgin Galactic, at a news conference. Branson was on his way to Mojave and would arrive on Saturday, he said. “We are going to be supporting the investigation as we figure out what happened today and we are going to get through it,” Whitesides said.
Two pilots are usually on board for Virgin Galactic’s test flights, launched from a base in the Mojave desert. The identities of those involved in Friday’s accident were not immediately disclosed.
The California Highway Patrol confirmed that one person was dead and another had suffered “major injuries” in the accident, which happened at 10.51am local time.
More details here