One test pilot has died and another has been seriously injured in the crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo during a test flight from Mojave Air and Space Port, California. The company said that the spacecraft suffered an anomaly that resulted in loss of the vehicle. Parachutes were reportedly sighted in the area. One witness said he saw an in-flight explosion and saw debris of the spacecraft scattered across a small area in the desert. The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft landed safely. The names of the test pilots have not been released, although it has been reported that the pilot ejected from the spacecraft and was hospitalized with serious injuries. Whether the copilot ejected has not been reported, although one witness reported seeing two parachutes.
It appears the anomaly developed during, or shortly after, ignition of the hybrid-fuel rocket motor. It was the first in-flight firing in over nine months. Virgin Galactic had switched from a rubber-based compound fuel to a plastic-based mix that was designed to improve motor performance. Today’s test had been delayed by weather for some three hours. After a 45-minute climb to 50,000 feet attached to WhiteKnightTwo, SpaceShipTwo was released for its test flight. The accident occurred not long after release. The NTSB has announced it is sending a Go-Team to investigate the accident.