Tuesday’s news about Orbital Sciences’ rocket explosion was bad, but the silver lining was that no one got hurt. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the said today. A Virgin Galactic spaceship has crashed in the Mojave Desert, resulting in the death of one pilot and injuries to the other.
This is a developing news story, so more details will come to light after we post this, and we’ll be sure to keep you informed of any developments. Right now, we’re checking a number of different sources trying to round up what know for sure. As with any catastrophe, there is contradictory information out there, and scant information there has been more investigation.
At 9:19 am PDT, Virgin Galactic’s partner, Scaled Composites, began a powered test flight of their new space tourism craft, SpaceShipTwo. The carrier plane, WhiteKnightTwo, took off with SpaceShipTwo, and at 50,000 feet, the carrier plane let go and the spaceplane launched. Not long after, SpaceshipTwo experienced what Virgin Galactic describes as a “serious anomaly,” resulting in the explosion of ship. One of the pilots is confirmed dead, and the other is injured, though the extent of the injuries hasn’t been revealed as yet. Fortunately, WhiteKnightTwo was fine and landed safely.
Virgin Galactic will conduct a press conference later today, where Richard Branson may (or may not) release more information. Of course, the primary concern is for the families of the pilot who died and for the injured pilot, but beyond that, it’s unclear what this will mean for Virgin Galactic.
Their space tourism business, due to take off in 2015, will rely on SpaceShipTwo—this may prove to be an obstacle both for the development of the ship (especially depending on what went wrong). It’s hard to imagine that this won’t affect that timeline. This will also likely affect consumer confidence in the ship’s ability to take them safely to low-Earth orbit.
This is the second major blow of the week for private spaceflight. Hopefully these aren’t deathblows—I don’t think they are—but it remains to be seen how these catastrophes will affect their respective companies, as well as the industry as a whole.
As for now, our thoughts are with families and loved ones of the pilots, and we hope for a swift and total recovery for the surviving member of the flight crew.