Tuesday 28 February 2017

Richard Branson to reveal new SpaceShip - 12 months after test pilot killed in crash

Ryan Wilkinson

British entrepreneur Richard Branson poses with the first SpaceShipTwo at a Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
British entrepreneur Richard Branson poses with the first SpaceShipTwo at a Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

Richard Branson is expected to reveal a new SpaceShip later, just over a year since a test pilot was killed in a crash.

SpaceShipTwo's arrival signals a return to testing for Virgin Galactic, the arm of the tycoon's empire that hopes to be the first to take tourists on trips into space.

The team behind the latest suborbital spaceplane includes leaders from NASA's mission control and astronaut corps, the militaries from three nations and from the top flight of the aviation and transport industries.

Virgin Galactic said: "We've charged them with developing a plan to safely test and operate a reusable spacecraft. They have done their homework and subjected their processes to expert external reviews, and they are eager to take the proverbial keys to SpaceShipTwo."

Wreckage from the crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo lies in the desert near Cantil, California
Wreckage from the crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo lies in the desert near Cantil, California

Mr Branson announced last July that the programme was "back on track" after the conclusion of an investigation by US authorities into the doomed October 2014 test flight.

Test co-pilot Michael Alsbury died when a prototype broke apart over the Mojave desert. A probe by the National Transportation Safety Body found the crash was caused by a catastrophic structural failure triggered when the co-pilot unlocked the craft's braking system early.

Transforming Mr Branson's dream of commercial spaceflight from the drawing board to the launchpad required "clever ideas, lots of hard work, and above all else, lots and lots of testing," the company said on Thursday.

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