Virgin Galactic, the commercial space tourism venture set to launch next year under the supervision of British investor and adventurer Richard Branson, suffered a fatal crash in California’s Mojave Desert today as it was testing a new rocket engine called Space Ship Two.
According to multiple news reports and agencies, Space Ship Two was lifted by carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo, then flew until it encountered an “anomaly” in midair.
While WhiteKnightTwo landed safely, Space Ship Two crashed, scattering debris across the desert in southeast California. Local police and fire authorities rushed to the scene. One pilot was killed and another was injured, though no details were immediately available about the extent of those injuries.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the crash is the second accident for private space companies this week, though the only fatal one.
Much excitement had been building about the first Virgin Galactic flight in 2015, which would take passengers to the boundary of space, allowing them to experience weightlessness. Tickets for the flights cost $250,000.
The Virgin Galactic website says that safety is a priority: “Safety is Virgin Galactic’s North Star. It is at the heart of the design of our new vehicles and will be engrained in the culture of our space line operation.”