One pilot confirmed dead in SpaceShipTwo crash

Artist's concept of SpaceShipTwo separating from WhiteKnightTwo

One of the two pilots who were aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo during yesterday's test flight accident is dead. At a press conference at the company’s Mojave Air & Space Port, officials from Virgin Galactic said that local authorities have confirmed the death and that the second pilot, who parachuted from the spaceplane before it crashed in the desert, is in hospital after suffering serious injuries.

Details of the accident remain sketchy, but according to the BBC and other news services, Ken Brown, a photographer, saw an explosion aboard SpaceShipTwo shortly after it separated from its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, on Friday during a test flight in which it suffered a "serious anomaly." WhiteKnightTwo later landed safely.

Virgin Galactic it is cooperating with Scaled Composites, the builder of SpaceShipTwo, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and local authorities. The company says that the NTSB will arrive on Saturday morning and its investigation will last several days. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson is flying out to Mojave.

SpaceShipTwo was designed as a craft to take tourists on suborbital flights into space using a hybrid liquid/solid rocket motor to obtain the necessary speed and altitude. In its second test flight this year, the spacecraft was reported to be using a thermoplastic polyamide solid fuel for the first time in flight. However, there is no indication yet that this was a factor in the incident.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, provided this statement: "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."

Virgin Galactic says that another press conference is scheduled for sometime this weekend and will provide more updates as they become available.

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