One pilot is dead and another gravely injured after a Virgin Galactic spaceship exploded during a test flight and crashed in the Mojave Desert. Check out the video above from the BBC to get a closer look at the crash site.
SpaceShip Two was designed to someday take wealthy civilians including a list of celebrities into suborbital orbit 62 miles above the Earth at $250,000 per flight. The tragic crash deals a blow to controversial billionaire Richard Branson’s aspirations to make civilian space flight a reality. Here’s what you need to know about this tragic accident.
1. A New Fuel Was Being Tested During the Flight
Virgin described the cause of the crash as an “anomaly.” According to Gizmodo, a new type of fuel was being tested for the first time during this flight. Earlier this month, CNET reported some details about the new fuel:
“In May, the company announced that was changing the solid fuel used in the hybrid rocket motor from hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene, a form of rubber that caused engine instabilities, to a plastic called thermoplastic polyamide, which performs much better and should allow SpaceShipTwo to achieve higher altitude.”
Mashable writes that the “anomaly” that caused the crash took place less than an hour after the craft took flight.
Mashable also notes that SpaceShipTwo debuted back in 2009. Originally, space tourist flights on SpaceShipTwo were expected to begin in 2011. The program saw several setbacks, however, and the official launch date for paying Virgin Galactic customers was pushed back to February or March of 2015.
2. One of the Pilots Is Dead
Twitter users and the AP are sharing reports that one of the two pilots has died. The other pilot has an undisclosed “major injury.” There are four pilots flying test flights for Virgin Galactic, including Space Shuttle veteran CJ Sturckow and Scottish pilot Dave Mackay. The two pilots involved in the crash were Michael Alsbury and Peter Siebold, the latter of whom survived. According to the BBC, Alsbury first flew in SpaceShipTwo in 2010.
SpaceShipTwo was designed to carry two pilots and six passengers. Ray Pruitt, the sheriff’s office spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff’s Department, released some details to Space.com. According to Pruitt, one pilot ejected from the craft:
“We have one confirmed fatality and one survivor…The survivor was able to eject from the aircraft. He was located near one of the debris fields.”
3. SpaceShipTwo Hadn’t Been Flown Since January
You can see a model of SpaceShipTwo in the image above. The man next the the model is pilot Michael Masucci. The Verge reports that, prior to today, SpaceShipTwo had not flown for several months. The Globe and Mail notes that SpaceShipTwo was undergoing its first powered test flight since January.
However, the craft had undergone a non-powered “glide” earlier this month. CNBC writes that “Before Friday’s flight, the most recent aerial outing was on October 7, when SpaceShipTwo took an unpowered, gliding flight back to the Mojave runway.”
You can get a closer look at SpaceShipTwo’s January flight in the video above from Virgin Galatic. The January flight was SpaceShipTwo’s third powered flight, and the flight broke the speed of sound. Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot Dave Mackay was in charge of that flight.
4. Space Tourism Was Poised for Growth Before the Crash
Check out the video above to see Virgin’s Richard Branson talk about the future of space tourism, including the possibility of “space hotels.”
Forbes recently claimed that space travel was going to be the “ultimate holiday gift” in 2015. The article noted that 700 people had already bought tickets for Virgin Galactic flights, with some of those tickets costing as much as $250,000. These “space rides” were set to include five minutes in a micro-gravity environment. It is not clear how this tragic crash will impact Virgin’s future plans for space tourism.
Reuters notes that Virgin Galactic isn’t the only name in the space tourism industry. The privately owned company XCOR Aerospace is building a two-person spaceplane called Lynx. In addition, there is also Blue Origin, a startup owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
5. Local First Responders Were Called to the Scene
ABC News states that the Kern County Fire Department has been called to the crash site in the Mojave Desert. Richard Branson is traveling to the scene as well.
According to the Atlantic, “The incident happened after SpaceShipTwo separated from WhiteKnightTwo, the much larger aircraft that carries SS2 to high altitudes before it engages its rocket engine. WhiteKnightTwo landed safely.”