Space

One pilot confirmed dead in SpaceShipTwo crash

One pilot confirmed dead in Sp...
Artist's concept of SpaceShipTwo separating from WhiteKnightTwo
Artist's concept of SpaceShipTwo separating from WhiteKnightTwo
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Artist's concept of SpaceShipTwo separating from WhiteKnightTwo
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Artist's concept of SpaceShipTwo separating from WhiteKnightTwo
Artist's concept of SpaceShipTwo separating from WhiteKnightTwo
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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.

Source: Virgin Galactic

8 comments
Anne Ominous
There were problems with the polyamide fuel in static bench tests, and many people were concerned about switching to that from the proven butadiene fuel at this late stage in the game.
One has to wonder why they did that.
Robert Walther
If the report had said the crash was the result of almost anything BUT a 'serious anomaly', there might have been a future for these passenger thrill rides. A 'serious anomaly' is when the main CPU locks up or the engine does not ignite. When the ship explodes, kills, maims and ends up as ragged, smoking debris scattered across the desert, it is time to flush the PC euphemisms and utilize a somewhat more applicable term. This is a terrible tragedy and tolls the death knell for personal suborbital flights. Rutan's dreams have often been screwed by weirdly hostile government agencies. His goal to justify his designs has been horribly destroyed. An even larger 'carry-all' configuration of this two-step, launch system is being designed for orbital payloads. I wish them good fortune, and send my sympathies to the dead and injured and their families.
Skipjack
Robert, there are other providers that will take over. To say that this is the death knell for personal suborbital spaceflight is hyperbole. XCOR and Blue Origin have very different concepts that will be available soon.
Gadgeteer
No, Robert Walther, I don't think this is the death knell yet. To most people, something like this is a glitch in the test process that doesn't really affect them. They'll say that it's the job of test pilots to face death. But if and when the first passenger-carrying flight does go horribly awry, then the intrinsic danger of rocket flight will finally hit home for them.
inchiki
We can't have a new space race without fatalities unfortunately. Even so, there will be many putting their hand up to be a part of the adventure, as long as the money doesn't dry up.
Sydneysider
It might be an idea for Mr Branson not to take his entire family with him in one flight...
Stewart Mitchell
two private launch failures in a couple days smells like sabotage. A laser weapon ???? Is the competition getting hot?
Bob
My father was a test pilot in the first swept wing large jets of the early 1950s. After five years and several close calls he gave up the test pilot role. Out of the nine test pilots he originally flew with, he was the only one to not die in a crash. These designs went on to become the modern airliners of today. People quickly forget all the risk and loss of life that accompanies new technology.