Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suffered a “serious anomaly” during a test flight Friday afternoon that resulted in the loss of the aircraft.
The complications arose after the ship took off from its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and fired up its rocket for the first time in nine months. Sources claim the ship exploded mid flight and debris fell onto the Mojave Desert in California. “The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft landed safely,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement. “Our first concern is the status of the pilots, which is unknown at this time.”
There were two pilots equipped with parachutes manning SpaceShipTwo in the cockpit, which began from the Mojave Air and Space Port approximately 100 miles from Los Angeles. A source told NBC News that two parachutes were, in fact, deployed after the ship began coming apart in the air.
Keith Holloway, a spokesperson for the National Transportation and Safety Board said “we are in the process of collecting information.”
The last test flight of SpaceShipTwo was in January, and since then the fuel mixture has been altered, from a rubber-based mix to a plastic-based mix. On October 7, the craft took an unmanned glided flight to its carrier aircraft.
As this flight was being prepared, SpaceShipTwo sat idle for more than three hours while officials determined if the weather was right for launch. Once the go ahead was given, it took WhiteKnightTwo about 45 minutes to get up to 50,000 feet before it released SpaceShipTwo for its free flight.
The test flights of SpaceShipTwo are aimed at preparing the ship for suborbital trips to the edge of outer space. Virgin Galactic was hoping SpaceShipTwo could make these flights by the end of the year, depending on how these test flights went. The company’s founder, Richard Branson, hoped to ride on the first commercial flight next year.[photo credit: tomaszd]