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News, November 2014
Virgin Galactic Space Ship Crashes California's Mojave Desert, After Separation from the Carrier Jet Airplane
October 31, 2014
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Branson to meet Virgin Galactic space team after crash
Saturday, November 1, 2014, 10:08am EDT
Richard Branson is set to meet his Virgin Galactic space team in California's Mojave Desert on Saturday following the crash of a passenger spaceship being developed by his company that killed one pilot and seriously injured the other.
The entrepreneur has pledged to keep up the drive for space travel, saying on the company's web site: "Space is hard - but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together."
Friday's crash of the suborbital vehicle, undergoing its first powered test flight since January over the Mojave, 95 miles (150 km) north of Los Angeles, was the second disaster suffered by a private space company in less than a week, dealing a blow to the fledgling commercial space launch industry.
On Tuesday, an Antares rocket built and launched by Orbital Sciences Corp exploded after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia, destroying a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station.
In the Virgin crash, one pilot body was found in the wreckage, while the second pilot, who ejected and parachuted to the ground, survived with serious injuries, according to Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
The survivor was found more than a mile from the main wreckage of SpaceShipTwo near the Mojave Air and Space Port, he said.
Television footage of the crash site showed wreckage of the spacecraft lying in two large pieces on the ground, and the company said the spacecraft was destroyed. Youngblood said a debris field was spread over more than a mile.
Both crew members were test pilots for Scaled Composites, the Northrop Grumman Corp subsidiary that designed and built the spacecraft for Virgin and lost three other employees in a July 2007 ground test accident.
"While not a NASA mission, the pain of this (new)tragedy will be felt by all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploration," NASA, the U.S. space agency, said in a statement.
The crash occurred shortly after the craft separated from the jet airplane that carried it aloft for its high-altitude launch.
Scaled Composites President Kevin Mickey told a news conference on Friday the ill-fated flight was the first using a new rocket fuel formula the company switched to in May. He said the formula "had been proven and tested on the ground" before Friday's test launch.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending one of its teams to investigate.
More than 800 people have paid or put down deposits to eventually fly aboard the spaceship, which is hauled to an altitude of about 45,000 feet (13.7 kms) and released by Virgin's White Knight Two carrier jet airplane.
Cost of a ride on the ship now goes for $250,000 and among those who have signed up are celebrities including singer Lady Gaga and actors Angelina Jolie and Ashton Kutcher.
The Virgin and Antares back-to-back accidents are set backs for he commercial space launch industry, which has been taking on more work traditionally done by the governments while also expanding for-profit space markets, including tourism.
(Additional reporting by Irene Klotz from Cape Canaveral, Florida; Writing by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
Branson's Virgin Galactic and the quest for space tourism
Sat Nov 1, 2014 2:14am EDT
A brief look at Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which suffered a setback on Friday to its plans for a new era of space tourism when its experimental spaceship crashed during a test flight in California:
SpaceShipTwo was designed and built by Scaled Composites, a Mojave, California-based subsidiary of defense contractor Northrop Grumman.
Virgin Galactic is owned by Branson's London-based Virgin Group, with outside investment from Aabar Investments, which is controlled by the Abu Dhabi government.
So far, Virgin Galactic has spent about $500 million developing SpaceShipTwo, and it expects to burn through another $100 million before commercial service starts.
The company had planned on making its first test flight beyond the atmosphere before the end of year.
Nearly 800 people, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and physicist Stephen Hawking, have signed up for the six-passenger flights, costing $250,000 per person, which were targeted to begin in 2015 but could now be delayed.
Each passenger is to get a window seat with another window overhead.
"I think most people in this world would love the chance to go to space if they could afford it and if we could guarantee them a return ticket," Branson told NBC last year.
Space travel is just the latest adventure for Branson, 64, a London-born high school dropout and billionaire. Branson is one of the world's most famous entrepreneurs whose business empire ranges from airlines to music stores and mobiles phones.
His Twitter page describes him as a "Tie-loathing adventurer and thrill seeker, who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise known as Dr Yes at @virgin!"
In 1987, he became the first man to cross the Atlantic ocean in a hot air balloon, and accomplished the same feat across the Pacific in 1991. But his several attempts to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon fell short.
Branson has said he plans to be on the first space flight with his two children, though his daughter, Holly, is currently pregnant. The flight is due to be broadcast live on NBC.
Branson was knighted in 2000 and has an estimated net worth of $4.9 billion, making him Britain's sixth-richest resident, according to business magazine Forbes.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz and David Adams; Writing by David Adams; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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