Some of the remains of SpaceShip Two on the Mojave Desert floor. The wreckage area is about five miles long.
Commercial Space efforts took another hit this week after the Antares rocket explosion, when Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Two crashes in the Mojave Desert, California during a test flight. Co-pilot Michael Alsbery, a test pilot was killed. Pilot Peter Siebold, who is also Director of Flight Operations for the company, survived but was in serious medical condition in the hospital.
Sequence of disaster. Clockwise, L-R: Spaceship Two separates from White Knight mothership(center of photo); Engine malfunction; Spaceship Two breaks up. Credit: Kenneth Brown/Spaceflight Now.
Investigations have begun by the National Transportation Safety Board, but early speculation is that the problem started after the rocketplane separated from its carrier aircraft (named White Knight, a twin-fuselaged and twin-cockpit jet plane) and ignited its experimental rocket motor. The spaceship appeared to break up and the wreckage spread over a large area of the desert. There is not a lot of information being released for now, as the investigations get under way, but there were many cameras and instruments recording the flight so there is a good chance the the problem will be identified and corrected. For now, it seems that some witnessed reported seeing a parachute, and the pilot is alive and conscious at the hospital.
On the runway earlier that day: White Knight mothership, with Spaceship Two hung between the twin fuselages in the center. This flight would be a test of the new rocket motor variation.
While the crash and fatality have shocked the space community, most people seem resolute to continue testing and flying to begin easy trips into space. Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, promises to continue flight testing although the second spacecraft currently in production won't be ready for flight testing until next year.