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3 Dead, 3 Injured at SpaceShipTwo Explosion

A birdWhat a terrible couple of days for spaceflight. I thought NASA was having a tough time with its drunken astronauts and sabotage, but that pales in comparison to what happened in the Mojave Desert yesterday.

As you’ve probably heard by now, a rocket test facility for Scaled Composites exploded on Thursday, killing 3 workers, and injuring 3 more.

The workers were performing a “cold test fire”, where nitrous oxide was pumped through engine components for SpaceShipTwo. This was supposed to be a fairly routine and safe thing to be testing. It’s not like they were igniting the system. Something obviously went wrong, and the whole engine system detonated. If you look at the associated picture from KCAL, you’ve got to realize that there used to be a flatbed trailer there.

2 of the workers died on the scene, and the others were rushed to Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield. 1 died from injuries Friday morning. 2 remain in critical condition, and 1 is in serious condition.

SpaceShipTwo is the follow-on design to SpaceShipOne. This is the spacecraft that won the X-Prize after it reached 100 km in altitude twice within two weeks. Entrepreneur Richard Branson ordered a new, larger version of SpaceShipOne be developed that could carry 7 people into space – the vehicles for his Virgin Galactic space tourism company. And so, Scaled Composites employees were working on the spacecraft’s hybrid rocket engine when the explosion occurred.

Burt Rutan arrived on the scene shortly after the accident, and spoke to reporters. He was surprised that it happened. According to Rutan, this test had been done many times before in the development of SpaceShipOne, and had been done once before for SpaceShipTwo.

I’m sure an investigation will be announced, and I’ll let you know the results once they’re in.

Original Source: CNN News Release

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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