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Jason DavisOctober 31, 2014

[Update 1] Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Destroyed in Testing Accident, 1 Dead, 1 Injured

Virgin Galactic's private spaceplane SpaceShipTwo has been destroyed in an accident over California's Mojave Desert, killing one test pilot and injuring the second. It was the 35th free flight and fourth powered flight of the vehicle, which was being tested in preparation to take tourists and scientists on short suborbital space trips from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Friday's test originated from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The names of the pilots, employed by Scaled Composites, have not been released.

According to officials at a Friday afternoon press conference, WhiteKnightTwo, the carrier aircraft, took off carrying SpaceShipTwo at 9:20 a.m. Friday. SpaceShipTwo was released at 10:10 a.m. and entered powered flight shortly thereafter, at which point an anomoly occured that destroyed the vehicle.

It is not yet clear what caused the accident. At the press conference, Scaled Composites president Kevin Mickey confirmed the flight was the first to substitute a plastic-based solid fuel for the motor's previous rubber-based compound. "This was a new fuel formulation. It had been proven and tested on the ground many times."

Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye released a statement in response to the accident.

BREAKING: California Highway Patrol reports 1 fatality, 1 major injury after SpaceShipTwo accident.

— The Associated Press (@AP) October 31, 2014

Saw on of crash sites. Body still in seat.

— Parabolicarc.com (@spacecom) October 31, 2014

Debris from Virgin Galactic's #SpaceShipTwo following accident in Mojave Desert http://t.co/iPFykUL9XF pic.twitter.com/r07Ps7SKB9

— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) October 31, 2014

Here is a statement from the FAA:

Just after 10 a.m. PDT today, ground controllers at the Mojave Spaceport lost contact with SpaceShipTwo, an experimental space flight vehicle. The incident occurred over the Mojave Desert shortly after the space flight vehicle separated from WhiteKnightTwo, the vehicle that carried it aloft. Two crew members were on board SpaceShipTwo at the time of the incident. WhiteKnightTwo remained airborne after the incident. The FAA is investigating.

Like the loss of Antares, this private spaceflight accident is drawing national media attention. The Planetary Society will follow the situation as the story develops. Here are some trusted news sources with early reports:

And here are some recent Tweets from Virgin Galactic: 

Thoughts with all @virgingalactic & Scaled, thanks for all your messages of support. I'm flying to Mojave immediately to be with the team.

— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) October 31, 2014

UPDATE:Virgin Galactic's partner Scaled Composites conducted a powered test flight of #SpaceShipTwo earlier today. (1 of 4)

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) October 31, 2014

Our first concern is the status of the pilots, which is unknown at this time. (3 of 4)

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) October 31, 2014

Read more: commercial spaceflight, human spaceflight

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Jason Davis

Journalist and Digital Editor for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Jason Davis

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