Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic SpaceShipTwo Crashes During Test Flight

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At least one pilot is dead and another seriously injured after Virgin’s commercial spaceship experienced an “in-flight anomaly” on Friday afternoon over Mojave, California. SpaceShipTwo took off attached to its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, and was released at 50,000 feet, where it’s supposed to accelerate, eventually hitting Mach 3.5.

The long-delayed project, courtesy of eccentric billionaire Richard Branson, is supposed to take six passengers and two pilots into space as soon as 2015, but had not been flight-tested in nine months before today.

Via NBC News:

Virgin Galactic’s partner Scaled Composites conducted a powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo earlier today. During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle. The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft landed safely. Our first concern is the status of the pilots, which is unknown at this time. We will work closely with relevant authorities to determine the cause of this accident and provide updates as soon as we are able to do so.

The space blogger at Parabolicarc.com witnessed the disaster:

According to the Daily Beast, “More than 750 people have already paid $250,000 to ride on Branson’s planes.”