BREAKING: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Breaks Up, Crashes Over California Desert

From Cory Bergman (@corybe) on Twitter: "Photo of #SpaceShipTwo debris from @ABC23News' helicopter." Image Credit: @ABC23News and @corybeon Twitter

From Cory Bergman (@corybe) on Twitter: “Photo of #SpaceShipTwo debris from @ABC23News’ helicopter.” Image Credit: @ABC23News and @corybe on Twitter

This morning, over the desert in Mojave, Calif., Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, designed to ferry tourists to altitudes of 62 miles above Earth, broke up in flight shortly after firing its engines, resulting in a crash that killed one pilot and seriously injured another, said a report by NBC News. The NBC report further stated that the crash resulted in a “two-mile swath” of debris across the desert. At present time, the names of the pilots involved in the crash have not been released; they were Scaled Composite test pilots. The space plane flew out of the Mojave Air and Space Port carried under its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, which landed safely.

Another view of SpaceShipTwo wreckage on the Mojave Desert's floor. Image Credit: KNBC News/Reuters

Another view of SpaceShipTwo wreckage on the Mojave Desert’s floor. Image Credit: KNBC News/Reuters

According to Discovery News, Virgin Galactic tweeted at 10:07 PDT (1:07 EDT) that they had ignited the space plane’s engines; within six minutes the company followed up, “#SpaceShipTwo has experienced an in-flight anomaly. Additional info and statement forthcoming.”

Virgin Galactic has released a statement: “Virgin Galactic’s partner Scaled Composites conducted a powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo earlier today. During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle. … We will work closely with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of the accident and provide updates as soon as we are able to do so.”

The last test of SpaceShipTwo’s engines, according to NBC News, occurred in January during a test flight. The plane performed an un-powered flight as recently as Oct. 7. While it has been noted that recently Virgin Galactic has switched fuel formulations, a press conference moderated by the airport’s outgoing CEO and General Manager Stuart Witt gave no indication as to what may have possibly caused the crash, or identifying details of the test pilots involved.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden released a statement about the accident this afternoon stating, “On behalf of the entire NASA family, I offer our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the pilot lost in today’s accident involving Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, and we are praying for a speedy recovery of the other pilot.

“While not a NASA mission, the pain of this tragedy will be felt by all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploration. Space flight is incredibly difficult, and we commend the passion of all in the space community who take on risk to push the boundaries of human achievement.”

This accident comes just days after an Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo capsule (“Spaceship Deke Slayton,” named after the Mercury Seven/Apollo-Soyuz astronaut), destined to meet up with the International Space Station (ISS), was destroyed just seconds following the failure of an Antares launch vehicle at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. At present time, the culprit behind this launch failure is not known.

Please watch for updates from AmericaSpace as this story continues to unfold.

 

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12 comments to BREAKING: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Breaks Up, Crashes Over California Desert

  • Lori Robin

    Sadly, we have surrendered a life to the mission of space exploration and tourism. Nothing could possibly humble our community more than this loss. What we do is hard and dangerous. We bow our heads in shock and prayer.

  • THIS IS A CRISIS THAT WAS BOUND TO HAPPEN. SPACE FLIGHT IS NOT EASY AND NOT A PLAY THING FOR THE RICH. ITS REAL VALUE IS SCIENCE AND ADDING TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF OUR UNIVERSE. NEW SPACE (THE GROWING INDEPENDENT COMMERCIAL SPACE BUSINESS) IS GOING TO HAVE TO LOOK INTO THEIR BUSINESS MODEL AND SEE IF SPACE FLIGHT FOR PROFIT IS WORTH RISKING HUMAN LIFE.

    Yes, this is Obama’s fault.

  • John hare

    How can this be Obamas fault?

  • Tracy the Troll

    Curious should this have been a remotely controlled test or is this standard for the industry with a new flight system?

  • John hare

    Flight test of manned vehicles is normally manned. Edwards Air Force names streets after the ones that paid the ultimate price for mistakes in the vehicles or operations during flight test.

  • Tracy The Troll

    So now the word is that the “feathering” system which is deployed at the end of the flight to control decent was initiated prematurely with the engine system completely intact…This is now being blamed on human error??? Is it possible that they collided with something?

  • Tracy The Troll

    Anybody …why so much hate for the guys at Virgin Galatic? All the stories that that hit the press about an engine blowup and the NTSB has indicated the engines while in pieces did not experience a blow out or burn through…

    • john hare

      Some of us are disgusted with the decade of hype with so little to show for it. The half billion to date has some jealousy effect as well, with most of the people in newspace working with relative peanuts. The media has an easy target should be explanation enough for that portion.

      I know people from several companies that could have had suitable liquid propellant engines for that ship years ago. That also factors into the annoyance.

      • Tracy The Troll

        John,
        I never understood the development of a new engine from the ground up..Was this because of cost? Were liquid fuel options more difficult to operate and maintain or turnaround for the next flight? Is there an “environmental” burn issue?

        • john hare

          Second hand story is that Burt saw a video of a liquid engine experiencing Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly (RUD event) and promptly nixed the idea of ever using them. That is second hand and therefore unreliable though it seems plausible. At about the time the decision was made, I also thought hybrids had all the safety and stability advantages over solids or liquids. A lot of my friends felt the same way. I changed my mind only after a talk by one of the pros with experience in that field.

          Tim Pickens had a 12K kero/Lox engine available at the time of engine selection for Spaceship One. The development of a new engine follows from that one being unacceptable on safety grounds.