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
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:
- Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suffers anomaly during test flight, Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now
- SpaceShipTwo Destroyed in Test Flight Accident, Jeff Foust, SpaceNews
- Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Crashes During Flight Test, Alan Boyle, NBC News
- Keith Cowing of NASAWatch.com is curating information as it becomes available.
- Doug Messier (Parabolic Arc) is tweeting live from the scene.
And here are some recent Tweets from Virgin Galactic:
Our first concern is the status of the pilots, which is unknown at this time. (3 of 4)— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) October 31, 2014