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One of two tail sections (empennage) of SpaceShiipTwo lies on the Mojave desert moments after its breakup during test flight. (Credit: Mojave Rescue & Emergency Response Team)

One of two tail sections (empennage) of SpaceShiipTwo lies on the Mojave desert moments after its breakup during test flight. (Credit: Mojave Rescue & Emergency Response Team)

Officials from Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites have confirmed one of the pilots was killed and another was injured in a major anomaly during a test flight of SpaceShipTwo today (Friday, October 31). The names of the pilots have not yet been released. During a hastily-called press conference, officials said launch of the WhiteKnightTwo plane carrying SpaceShipTwo occurred at 9:20 am PDT this morning and at 10:10 am, SpaceShipTwo was released for its test flight to the edge of the atmosphere and space. Two minutes into its flight, SpaceShipTwo encountered an anomaly. Officials had no immediate cause but the rocket engine is the first point of concern.

The rocket motor had itself been flown in four previous flights but the solid rocket fuel called thermoset plastic — similar to nylon — was making its first flight. Participating in the press conference were executives Kevin Mickey, CEO of Scaled Composites, George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and Stu Witt, chief executive of Mojave Air and Space Port. They emphasized that the nylon-based rocket fuel and engine had been thoroughly tested on the ground and they were confident of its readiness for in-flight testing.

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Feathered Flight during Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's third powered flight on January 10,  2014 over the Mojave desert. This image was taken by MARS Scientific as part of the Mobile Aerospace Reconnaissance System optical tracking system.

Feathered Flight during Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo’s third powered flight on January 10, 2014 over the Mojave desert. This image was taken by MARS Scientific as part of the Mobile Aerospace Reconnaissance System optical tracking system.

According to reports on Twitter, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo exploded in midflight, and debris was seen scattered on ground in the Mojave Desert in California. Virgin tweeted that the rocket plane suffered an “in-flight anomaly” during a powered test flight on Friday. Other witnesses said it involved a fatal explosion and crashed.

“The ship broke apart and started coming down in pieces over the desert,” tweeted Doug Messier (@spacecom), managing editor of the Parabolic Arc website.

The Associated Press is now reporting that the California Highway Patrol reports 1 fatality, 1 major injury after the SpaceShipTwo accident.

Virgin Galactic provided this statement via Twitter:

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Damage is visible to Launch Pad 0A following catastrophic failure of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket moments after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Damage is visible to Launch Pad 0A following catastrophic failure of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket moments after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Some damage is clearly discernible to the Antares rocket launch pad in the aftermath of the sudden catastrophic explosion that completely consumed the rocket and its NASA contracted cargo just seconds after its liftoff NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Va, at 6:22 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, October 28.

From a public viewing area about two miles away, I captured some side views of the pad complex and surroundings. [click to continue…]

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Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Guests:
Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @cosmic_chatter)
Ramin Skibba (@raminskibba)
Alessondra Springmann (@sondy)
Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com / @ken_kremer)
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Goldstone delay-Doppler images of 2014 SC324 obtained on October 25. The images span an interval of about 45 minutes and show considerable rotation by this object, which has an irregular and elongated shape. Credit: NASA/JPL

Goldstone delay-Doppler images of 2014 SC324 obtained on October 25. The images span about 45 minutes and show its rapid rotation. The asteroid has an irregular and elongated shape. Credit: NASA/JPL

Looks like we dodged a bullet. A bullet-shaped asteroid that is. The 70-meter Goldstone radar dish, part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, grabbed a collage of photos of Earth-approaching asteroid 2014 SC324 during its close flyby last Friday October 24. These are the first-ever photos of the space rock which was discovered September 30 this year by the Mt. Lemmon Survey. The level of detail is amazing considering that the object is only about 197 feet (60-meters) across. [click to continue…]

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