One pilot has been killed and another seriously injured after a Virgin Galactic suborbital rocket plane crashed on a powered test flight over California. The tragedy occurred after SpaceShipTwo fired its rocket motor following a high-altitude drop from Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo mothership.
The co-pilot suffered moderate to major injuries when he ejected from the rocket plane, a spokesman for Kern County Sheriff told Reuters news agency. Virgin Galactic, part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, was aiming to begin tourist flights to the edge of space next year. Branson said his thoughts are with all those at Virgin Galactic and partner business Scaled.
“Thanks for all your messages of support,” he tweeted. “I’m flying to Mojave immediately to be with the team.”
His company said earlier in a statement to Sky News that SpaceShipTwo “suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle”.
It said the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft had landed safely Virgin Galactic said it would work with the authorities to determine the cause of the accident. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating. It is the second disaster involving a US spacecraft this week.
Virgin Galactic aims to become the world’s first commercial “spaceline”, sending customers willing to pay $250,000 for a short journey into zero gravity and a glimpse of the planet from the edge of space.
The company previously said it has accepted more than $80m in deposits from about 680 people who hope to be among the first space tourists.
Actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher and singer Justin Bieber are said to have signed up.
After launching from New Mexico, it is envisaged that each spaceship will take six passengers on a journey of between two and three hours just over 62 miles (100km) from Earth. Eventually, Branson hopes to build a hotel in space.