Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo has crashed in a California desert, killing at least one person and seriously injuring another, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Virgin Galactic has confirmed the craft was doing a manned test when it suffered "a serious anomaly". Ken Brown, a photographer who was capturing the test flight, told NBC News he witnessed the craft explode in air and debris scatter across an area in the desert. Television images have also shown what looks like an aircraft wreckage, in the desert, with a Virgin logo.
Virgin Galactic is an American-based, British-owned commercial spaceflight company, which Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group founded in 2004. It hopes to provide commercial suborbital or orbital spaceflights for consumers and even signed an agreement with the US Federal Aviation Administration in May that allows commercial flights of SpaceShipTwo from New Mexico.
Branson unveiled the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane in 2009, revealing it would one day transport ticketed individuals to the atmosphere on short trips. The FAA agreement defined it could launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico into the National Airspace System and work with Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center and New Mexico Spaceport Authority to travel safely through clear airspace.
Following the immediate aftermath of SpaceShipTwo's crash, Branson said he was flying to California "to be with the team" and then tweeted that his thoughts were with Virgin Galactic. He also thanked people on Twitter for their messages of support.
Authorities told Reuters that one of two pilots on board the aircraft was killed during the crash, while the second pilot was ejected, found at the scene, and taken to a local hospital. The California Highway Patrol has confirmed one fatality and one major injury.
Although details about the crash are still emerging, it is clear that Virgin Galactic - a company that hoped to spearhead space tourism - has experienced an unfortunate and massive setback.