LATEST: PILOT ERROR may have been cause of incident says NTSC investigators
It suffered what local sources say was a mid air catastrophic explosion - although a local BBC correspondent quoting observers claimed that no explosion was heard on the ground - at the start of a 30-second burn, testing a new type of solid rocket fuel and a nitrogen fuelled mid air ignition system. Apparently extensive ground testing had been completed but the 'new mixture' solid rocket fuel had never been nitrogen (nitrus oxide) ignited at 45,000 feet.
A hastily called news conference - with many of the platform party exhibiting signs of trauma - heard that the craft was unusually undergoing 'manned testing', project named POWERED FIGHT FOUR, rather than use a safer drone technology with a totally new type of solid rocket fuel, and nitrogen enhanced ignition burn system.
The carrier craft with the rocket plane launched at 09:20 hrs at 10:10 hrs the two craft reached 45,000 feet and the rocket was released at 10:10 hrs, at 10:12 hrs a mid air explosion was recorded. Positive confirmation was to come 10 minutes later. Local sources say the rocket powered craft broke up in mid air into five large scale pieces.
The crash site is located 25 miles north of the launch airport in the Mojave Desert. The company initially described the incident as "a serious anomaly". The rocket motor had been used three times before in space hence this flight being tagged Powered Flight Four.
SpaceShipTwo (SS2) when operational would have a full payload of sub-orbital space tourists on board, is positioned at flight level 50,000 feet by a twin bodied carrier aircraft, the rocket craft is slung underneath the central wing section.
Space Ship Two is then released and fires its own solid fuel rocket motor to place the space tourist craft into a sub-space orbit.
The Virgin Galactic statement was terse, and gave little practical information: the "vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo".
Kern County Sheriff's spokesman told the Reuters news agency the rocket powered SS2 co-pilot was killed, while the pilot ejected and was seriously injured.
Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the crash, told the Associated Press news agency the craft exploded after it was released from a plane that carries it to a high altitude.
The carrier aircraft, known as White Knight 2, landed safely, according to Virgin Galactic.
Weeks earlier in a major investigation into the whole Virgin Galactic program the DAILY MAIL quoted Julian Bray:
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2762839/Why-thing-Branson-fired-space-ego-700-VIPs-paid-50m-tickets-orbit-But-six-years-Virgin-boss-promised-blast-space-ship-STILL-isn-t-ready.html#ixzz3HkhXGOh5
JULIAN BRAY [ 01733 345581 ], Journalist, Broadcaster, Aviation Security & Operations, Travel / Cruise Industry Expert, Writer and Coach EQUITY, NUJ, Broadcast ISDN changed number 01733 345020) SKYPE: JULIAN.BRAY.UK e&oe A later updated version is always on the Website