One of Virgin Galactic’s rocket planes crashed after an explosion during a test flight over the Mojave desert on Friday, killing one person on board and seriously injuring another.
The plane, Space Ship Two, was undertaking a test flight as part of Virgin Galactic’s plans for commercial space travel when a “serious anomaly” occurred, the company said.
Two pilots are usually on board for the test flights, launched from a base in the Mojave desert.
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.
The survivor was flown to hospital by air ambulance. “We are going to secure the scene until the appropriate agency that investigates this comes out,” said Jesse Borne, a California Highway officer based in Mojave.
Space Ship Two is the second-stage launch vehicle for Virgin Galactic’s space flight program. It is designed to disconnect from the propeller-engined White Knight (WK2) craft and ascend to space under rocket power, then return to earth on its own power.
Virgin Galactic, part-owner by the entrepreneur Richard Branson, said its top concern was the status of the pilots on board Space Ship Two, which was operated in partnership with the aerospace company Scaled Composites.
In a series of posts on Twitter, the company said:
Virgin Galactic’s partner Scaled Composites conducted a powered test flight of #Space Ship Two earlier today. During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of Space ShipTwo. WK2 landed safely.
Our first concern is the status of the pilots, which is unknown at this time. We will work closely with relevant authorities to determine the cause of this accident and provide updates ASAP.
Ken Brown, a photographer who saw the crash, said the space tourism craft exploded after it was released from the carrier plane, the Associated Press reported.
Almost 700 people, including Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie, had paid to book a two-hour journey into space on Space Ship Two, which would include a planned five minutes of weightlessness.
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