Virgin Galactic crash: investigators begin work in Mojave Desert

1 Nov 2014

In what has been the second commercial spacecraft disaster in days, one pilot has died and another was injured when Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed yesterday in the Mojave Desert.

A team of 15 investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board have arrived at the crash site near Bakersfield, California, and Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson has travelled there to ascertain how the tragedy unfolded.

SpaceShipTwo was Virgin’s foray into the space tourism industry, aimed firstly at well-heeled millionaire tourists who wished to experience space travel. The venture has already taken more than 700 flight bookings at US$250,000 a head.

Branson has vowed to continue his space tourism venture despite the crash.

It is understood that this was the first time the spacecraft has flown using a new plastic-based fuel.

One pilot was able to parachute from the plane and was taken to hospital suffering major injuries.

The crash comes just days after Orbital Science Corporation’s Antares rocket exploded just second after lift-off. The unmanned spacecraft was carrying supplies to the International Space Station and no one was injured.

SpaceShipTwo was flying its first test flight for nine months. The spacecraft experienced a serious anomaly after the craft separated from its launch aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo.

Space is hard

In a statement George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic said: “Our primary thoughts at this moment are with the crew and family, and we’re doing everything we can for them now.

“I’d like to recognize the work of the first responders who we work with in the Antelope Valley for their efforts on behalf of the team. We’re also thinking of the team members that we have at the companies that have been working on this program.

Space is hard and today was a tough day. We are going to be supporting the investigation as we figure out what happened today. We’re going to get through it.

“The future rests in many ways on hard days like this, but we believe we owe it to the team, that has been working so hard on this endeavour, to understand this and to move forward. And that is what we’ll do,” Whitesides said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years