Pilot dies as Branson rocket crashes in desert

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo: Mojave Desert crash.

One pilot died and another was seriously injured after a rocket belonging to billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism venture crashed during a test flight, US authorities said.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket came down in the Mojave Desert in California. A witness said the craft exploded in flight after ignition.

A Virgin Galactic spokesman said the rocket “suffered a serious anomaly” after a test flight conducted by partner business Scaled Composites.

California Highway Patrol said one person was dead and another had suffered a major injury. The rocket is usually flown by two pilots.

Branson wrote on Twitter: “Thoughts with all @virgingalactic & Scaled, thanks for all your messages of support. I’m flying to Mojave immediately to be with the team.”

SpaceShipTwo has been under development at Mojave Air and Spaceport.

It was designed to be carried into the air by the WhiteKnightTwo jet and then released before igniting its rocket to travel into space, before returning to Earth as a glider.

A Virgin Galactic spokesman said: “Virgin Galactic’s partner Scaled Composites conducted a powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo earlier today.

“During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo.

“WhiteKnightTwo landed safely. Our first concern is the status of the pilots.

“We will work closely with relevant authorities to determine the cause of this accident and provide updates as soon as possible.”

Photographer Ken Brown said he saw SpaceShipTwo get released from WhiteKnightTwo but explode after its rocket motor was ignited.

Former Nasa astronaut Michael Massimino said the crash brought back memories of the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, which disintegrated during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members on board.


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