August 21, 2010

Virgin Galactic Craft Damaged In Test

A special aircraft designed to launch a suborbital passenger spaceship was damaged in an accident on a California runway, according to Scaled Composites, the spaceship's manufacturer.

Scaled Composites, in a statement on its website, called Thursday's incident "minor" and noted that SpaceShipTwo was not attached to the carrier aircraft, known as WhiteKnightTwo.

WhiteKnightTwo's left main landing gear collapsed on the runway, according to a report by industry trade publication Aviation Week & Space Technology. It was not known if the plane was taking off or landing when the mishap occurred.

Scaled reported that no one was injured in the accident at the Mojave, California airport. The Federal Aviation Administration is currently investigating the accident.

WhiteKnightTwo was making its 37th test flight on Thursday. The aircraft was designed to carry SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 45,000 feet. The six-passenger , two-pilot spaceship would then be released and its rocket engine fired. The spaceship would then exit the Earth's atmosphere, experience a few minutes of weightlessness in suborbital space and then return to the surface.

SpaceShipTwo's ticket price is $200,000 per seat, which are sold by Virgin Galactic. So far about 340 customers have signed up for the short spaceflight. The company hopes to begin commercial space flight in late 2011 or 2012.

SpaceShipTwo is the follow-up to SpaceShipOne, which made three suborbital piloted flights in 2004, proving that private human spaceflight was feasible.

No information was given by Scaled on how the damage will affect its testing program and pilot training.


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