Friday 6 December 2019

Virgin 'ignored fuel warnings' as probe to last a year

Sheriffs' deputies look at wreckage from the crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo near Cantil, California
Sheriffs' deputies look at wreckage from the crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo near Cantil, California
Wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed (AP)
Sheriff's deputies inspect the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field north of Mojave, California on The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another

David Usborne

The probe into Friday's crash of Richard Branson's experimental spacecraft in a Californian desert intensified yesterday amid claims that the mission, and the fuel used, could pose a threat to civilian space exploration.

Christopher Hart, interim head of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said that while the size of the area of debris made it clear the craft had broken up in flight, he did not know why one pilot had escaped and the other had not.

"We don't know how that pilot got out of the airplane," Mr Hart said, adding that it could be a full year before his agency reaches any conclusions about the crash -, a huge setback for Branson and his dream of sending paying passengers into sub-orbital space.

Meanwhile, Carolynne Campbell-Knight, an expert on rocket propulsion at the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety, said the crash was not a surprise.

She urged Virgin Galactic to "give up" on the project as claims emerged that safety warnings given several years before SpaceShipTwo crashed were ignored.

Ms Campbell-Knight said: "They should stop, give up. Go away and do something they might be good at like selling mobile phones - they should stay out of the space business."

She claimed she had contacted those involved in the project in 2009 or 2010 to raise concerns about the fuel used. This came after an explosion in 2007 during testing for the development of a rocket motor killed three workers.

It is claimed that Friday's break-up came as a new, plastic-based rocket propellant was being tested, used as a booster to take SpaceShipTwo towards the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic said it was "cooperating with an independent investigation" by the NTSB.

Branson, who flew on Friday to the Mojave Desert airfield that was home to Virgin Galactica's experimental flights, said he was "determined to find out what went wrong".

It was shortly after detaching from the aircraft which lifts it to an altitude of 50,000 feet that SpaceShipTwo blew apart with the two pilots on board.

Company officials confirmed that co-pilot Michael Alsbury had perished but pilot Peter Siebold (43) was able to deploy a parachute and is being treated in a nearby hospital for serious injuries. © Independent News Service

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