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.
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.